Belleville, Ontario at 5:30PM EST
Form without substance: The Canadian Federal Election debate
The debate tonight will be all about looking and sounding good, it should be much more than that but will the leaders dare to lead Canadians?
by Tom Thorne
The main point of these political debates tonight is to do two things. First, which leader will score the knockout punch? A knockout is probably unlikely in two hours of fencing and waffling which is probably how it will go. Two, who will badly screw up their chances with unscripted gaffes or temper tantrums? Do not look for potential leaders or directions for Canada from this debate. Issues? Don’t look for them either. We will see a lot of form without substance.
However, if the debate was really a debate then some scenarios might emerge to make a difference. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for a breakthrough leading to a more substantial political life for Canada.
The two leaders who have nothing to loose tonight are of course Gilles Duceppe for the Bloc Quebecois and Jack Layton for the NDP. Duceppe can do no wrong. If he plays the Quebec interest card throughout the debate and gets ways with it unopposed then he will have done his job. However, there is a way to really get this debate rolling and get votes in Quebec for federalist parties.
Every time Duceppe tries to play the what’s best for Quebec game the others should always take him back to his real ambition which is to split up Canada. Quebeckers love to keep the federal government on edge. When that edge is separatism then the dallying they do with the Bloc becomes more serious. What's at stake here is 50 Quebec seats in the federal parliament now controlled by separatists, so the other leaders need to be tough and unrelenting.
The Bloc waffles on a separate Quebec
Duceppe can only waffle on the separate Quebec card if it is played and played hard. It should be done as if the shade of Pierre Trudeau is present. Many Quebeckers support the Parti Quebecois because they know they will never really have to face separatism from Canada. Duceppe is weaker when federalist politicians of all stripes call him on separatism. Canadians don’t have to suffer separatists gladly but our politicians do so all the time giving valuable seats in Quebec to the Bloc.
What can the federalist parties loose by attacking separatism? It’s not politically dangerous to promote Canada. If Canada is to be worth anything in Quebec it must be presented positively. The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP need to gain respect again in Quebec. Waffling and a lot of political correctness about separatism is not the answer.
Layton weak on implementation
Jack Layton is weak on being called on whether he will ever have to really implement his programs and promises. Layton can say anything and even if he is criticized by Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper his glibness ensures there is a layer of political teflon all over him. So he needs a test of his resolve.
Michael Ignatieff should tackle the coalition criticisms of Stephen Harper head on if they emerge tonight. He should ask Layton to join with him to defeat the Harper government by forming a coalition and go further by proposing a new political party. That is worth headlines and would redefine the election. That would also take real intestinal fortitude but it would get the debate and the election off centre and into the real problem of this country of the regional concentrations in the West and in Quebec. Ignatieff should invite the entire country to join a National Coalition to make parliament work.
Harper on the other hand as the incumbent government has only his edgy record to fall back on. What is he going to say if Ignatieff calls for a National Coalition or the formation of a new party? He did it himself by uniting the right by welding the Reform Party to the old Conservative Party. Ignatieff can make the argument that a Centre Left Coalition allows Canadians to have a distinct choice between two political parties that have the potential to form a majority government. Voters get a clear choice from the right wing policies of the Harper Governments.
Will there be anything as exciting as this scenario tonight? There will be a lot of ducking and weaving to avoid direct hits or gaffes. No one will challenge or rock the boat and we will go forward for the last three weeks of the campaign investing in another round of minority government and a lack of leadership. The voter turnout will be low as usual and no one will have moved a centimeter nearer to getting the politics in this country focused on agendas that most Canadians can support.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved