Monday, April 11, 2011

Debate week

Some thoughts on the debates and all the madness that is about to start swirling around in the Canadian political ether in the next few days...

While we will no doubt be treated to clip after clip of the Mulroney knock-out line directed at John Turner in 1984 in the next 48 hours, there's a reason for that. There really haven't been any comparable moments since. Blasted Mulroney, he ruined them for everybody! It's just not likely to happen this time around either.

Jeffrey Simpson seemed to suggest in his weekend column that this might be a make or break moment for Ignatieff:
For Mr. Ignatieff, the debates are about showing himself as he has been in the campaign, in contrast to the demonic portrait of him in the Conservatives’ negative ads. He needs a lot of voters with a negative feeling toward him to be impressed with what they see. Otherwise, the Liberals’ chances will be over.
I would agree with the first two sentences there but respectfully disagree with the last if he means to say that the debates are do or die. What's more likely is a performance that will be one more step along the way that lets Ignatieff continue to build on the election narrative he's got going. That he shows on debate night what he's been showing on the campaign trail thus far. It's a marathon not a sprint. And despite the efforts by Conservatives to build him up as teh awesome debater, it is a fact that the others have all been at these debates many times. They're the old hands by now and that will be apparent the moment we look at our screens. Ignatieff is not.

The re-scheduling of the French debate to Wednesday to immediately follow Tuesday night's English one might also minimize their potential impact. There won't be two days within which an impression might settle, the Wednesday night debate will provide an immediate turning of the page from Tuesday's. Of course, there's a chance the new scheduling might intensify the impact, that's the other side of the coin, but we'll have to see based on their events.

The fact that the leaders will be standing is a plus. Last election's free-for-all chat format while seated at a round table was stultifying and diminished the event. Standing is active, not passive. Real debates don't happen sitting down. They don't sit in the House of Commons when speaking. So that's one reason to look forward to the possibilities and the dynamic this time round.

Not surprisingly, some of us out here will be watching Harper most carefully. The lines that will come, the demeanour, it will be something. What, we don't know. But he's been able to do well at these things. In 2008, he succeeded by avoiding any missteps and by surviving against all comers. He's the presumptive winner on that score if he defeats the gang up effect again, it'll be interesting to see if anyone can knock him down a peg or two.

For fun, from the archives: