English debate: Harper gets pounded, but nothing that essentially changes the campaign
The Engish debate was actually pretty entertaining. I took a few peeks at the replay of the US Vice-Presidential debate and I actually thought the Canadian debate was more interesting. I actually thought all five party leaders were reasonably effective and the debate clarified a few things in the election. I'm not going to talk about Gilles Duceppe: he's a good debater, but basically irrelevant for the English debate.
First on style: I thought we saw the strengths and weaknesses of all of the leaders. Harper is definitely confident and prime ministerial, but we saw the nasty streak a bit, especially with the little shot about never having gone to a private clinic (a thinly veiled shot against Jack Layton). He was a little more engaged than in the French debate, but still had little new to add. May called him out pretty well for not having a platform and a plan, especially on the economy. That became a central point in the debate and something where the opposition leaders got some traction against Harper.
I thought this was the best I'd seen Layton in a debate. He was forceful and feisty and nicely smacked down Dion for having kept the Conservatives in power through the minority government. He was a bit of a one-trick pony, repeating "corporate tax cuts" over and over again. On the bright side, it was a refreshing change from the last five-fifteen elections where the NDP just repeated "health care" over and over again.
I thought Dion was pretty good for the most part, and he came across decent, thoughtful and he passionately defended his Green Shift. He clearly doesn't like the rough and tumble of the debate format and Layton ended up talking over him a lot. The language was a bit of a liability. As an essentially unilingual anglophone, I'm reluctant to criticize someone else's skills in a second language. However, the rapidfire nature of a debate put Dion at a disadvantage and it showed.
Elizabeth May was pretty good and showed she belonged on the stage. She didn't have to do much but show up and be competent and she more than did that. She cemented the Greens' place on the national stage: they're a fact of life and I don't think the other parties can ignore her any more.
On substance, what came clear to me in the first half hour is how divided the left is in this country. All four opposition leaders came up with various mixes of economic nationalism and interventionism, leaving Harper and the Conservatives with the free market ground all to themselves. Only a minority of Canadians may think that, but with the divisions on the left, it's enough to give the Conseratives a plurality of the vote.
I think the damage to the Conservatives over the two debates -- and particularly the lack of a platform -- is significant enough that the majority is now in more doubt. Layton did well, but not enough to supplant the Liberals. Dion was competent, which should stem the bleeding in Ontario. Duceppe shored up BQ gains last week. And the Greens are now a fact of life in Canadian politics. So, after four hours around the debate table, the status quo likely prevailed.