Salt with Pepper: So – who won? Won what? The federal election debate. Oh, that.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON April 13, 2011 Thousands of Canadians tuned into the federal election debate on television but I’m betting most of them didn’t stay for the full two hours. It got kinda boring, no it got very boring at times. Was there a winner? Yeah – Jack Layton actually won the debate – but he hasn’t a hope in Hades of winning the election and his health is such that he probably would not be able to finish the term were he to win.

But he did get off some of the best lines. Stephen Harper was the same, empty, bloodless person he has always been. The man just doesn’t emit any sense of empathy. Michael Ignatieff was OK – but if the sense that he needed a knockout punch to win – then he didn’t win because there was no knockout punch.

Gilles Duceppe was in there plugging away for Quebec’s interests. Odd that he could be part of the debate but the Greens were not given a place at the table. Elizabeth May is at least lively, focused and good at going for the juggler. However, five candidates would have been too many. Why does Duceppe take part in a debate for English Canadians – shouldn’t he be limited to just the French debate?

I watched the debate at two different locations – the Mike Wallace Conservative campaign office and at the Alyssa Brierley Liberal campaign office. Mike had the larger crowd – maybe 15% larger. He was also serving beer and wine. And the usual suspects were at his event. The Mike crowd were quite boisterous and guffawed like fans in a tavern watching a hockey game.

When Jack Layton sucker punched Ignatieff over his House of Commons attendance record one voice in the Wallace crowd hollered out: “Thanks for that Jack.” To the Wallace crowd it was all great sport and they felt their guy was more than holding his own. Mike himself was in fine form.

Try as Ignatieff might he was never able to make the point that the election was taking place because the government had been found in contempt of the House of Commons. That is a big deal and it will be part of the Harper legacy. Harper wouldn’t see it that way – he saw it all as “bickering” between political parties that was wasting everyone’s time – especially his.

It was interesting to note that while the two local campaign managers were roughly the same age and appeared to me to be good at what they do – the Liberal crowd was younger and much more engaged. The Wallace crowd was definitely older and reminded me of the people that were at one of the early Cam Jackson campaign for Mayor events. You didn’t get the sense that they were as aware or “with it” as the Liberal crowd.

The Liberals were quieter than the Tory’s. Alyssa Brierley was “tweeting” throughout the debate. There was the sense at the Liberal event that Iggy did OK – he didn’t make any monumental goofs, and he was certainly miles ahead of poor Stephane Dion. Ignatieff had been well briefed and knew his file and at times the passion in the man did come through but never with the vigor that was needed.

While election signs are not a particularly reliable measure of support for a candidate, there appear to be more of the red ones than the blue ones out there and a lot of the blue ones appear to be on commercial property rather than homes of people who can fill in a ballot. There are some of the orange ones and I’ve seen a few of the green ones as well.

Harper did more than hold his own. He was standing there taking on all comers and while the answers were acceptable, other than his explanation that there was no money to be saved on the new fighter jets he planned on buying – as he said they wouldn’t be spending a dime for another five years.

Did the country trust Harper anymore after the debate than they did before? I don’t think so – but the country is getting used to the guy. Will he get the majority he needs? Really hard to tell. Will there be a higher voter turn out ? Well make sure you vote and drag your neighbours along.

Will we end up with another minority? That could happen. My sense is that we will end up with another minority government – who will lead that government and will it have the confidence of the House? Big questions. But hey, we Canadians learned what “prorogation of the House” is all about so we can handle a confidence matter.

We’ve done all right with the last two minority governments. If Harper does not win a majority he’s toast and if Ignatieff does not form at least a minority, he too will be toast. And Layton’s health is such that this is probably his last election. So, we could see all three men off the federal stage 18 months from now. Duceppe? Oh he will still be there – he gets great deals for Quebec.


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