Impressions from Week One

By Royce Koop on Sep 14, 2008

First: Elizabeth May deserves congratulations for gaining entry to the leaders' debate. I'm not so sure that she should be so happy over this, however. Many people think that May has a good speaking style. This may be true in some contexts, but I'm not sure if she will perform well in a debate with four other party leaders. Harper, Dion, Layton, and Duceppe all have significant experience in Parliament and the first three have already participated in televised debates. May has no similar experience. "Elizabeth May," argues Kevin Libin, "talks faster than an auctioneer on a caffeine buzz." And we've already seen that her tendency to talk quickly can get her into trouble. As Harold Jansen observed, it may be Harper who benefits from May's inclusion in the debate, as he is left to look prime ministerial as the other four leaders natter away.

In any case, even if May does perform well, so what? Is there a single seat where the Greens can actually win in this campaign? I doubt it. At least if she had been excluded from the debate, May could have justified a poor result. But her participation will raise expectations that cannot possibly be fulfilled, and which may cost May her job.

Second: Harper was mostly engaged last week in moving issues off the table. It's hard to call Harper a Republican-wannabe when he's an Obama-booster. And it's hard to bring up the Afghanistan issue when Harper has committed to pulling out Canadian troops. The Liberals have to find a way to deal with this, because once all the unfavourable issues are slid off the table by Harper, all there is left is the distinction between the strong leader Harper and the puffin pooped on Dion.

Third: I notice that some of the NDP's ads and some hand-held signs are making reference to Layton as a strong leader. What's the angle here?

Fourth: The Liberal Party has won 69% of the national elections held since expansion of the Canadian franchise in 1918. This obviously means that Conservative leaders should never take it easy on the party, even when it seems (as it currently does) that the Liberals are down and out. Harper understands that he needs to stay on the attack, but the party has to find some kind of balance between tenaciousness and the goofy mistakes that we saw last week. The Edmonton Journal gets this:

"...you sense that certain younger, ambitious party types...have been sent conflicting messages by the prime minister's inner circle. Urged (ordered?) to be tough, partisan and relentless when it comes to media and the opposition, they're never offered a guidebook on how far they're meant to go."

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