Mr. Harper's attempt to appear prime ministerial and above the fray as he came under attack from the other four leaders was not entirely successful. Marco Fortier, a columnist in le Journal de Montréal, said Mr. Harper was so relaxed it was "as if he was having a camomile tea at his bridge club." Vincent Marissal in La Presse said Mr. Harper seemed tired: "We don't ask him to be passionate, that's not his style, but he really seemed to be bored stiff last night." His newspaper's editorial cartoonist showed Mr. Harper with a vial of Valium in his hand, saying, "Before each debate, I always take one or two! It really helps." Tonight, he might be advised to switch to Red Bull.You have to wonder, then, whether we will indeed see an unleashed "Angry Harper," who will seek to compensate for last night's performance. Angry Harper is not a good look, but far be it for me to encourage any restraint. In fact, I would strongly support the Red Bull suggestion...:) He did show the mean streak last night, particularly with his attempt to tar the Canadian Medical Association Journal as being liberal hacks, that could be magnified to a much greater extent in English where he will be much less constrained.
It's likely too that Harper's performance last night was affected by his life in the bubble. He's not challenged at any of his campaign events by public questioning, the closest he would come to a debate-like environment would be through a back and forth with reporters. But that's really not happening either. And lord knows, he doesn't have ministers who challenge him on a regular basis. So he's done himself a disservice by taking himself out of the loop as he has. He's rusty. It's not a royal position he's occupying, he's a democratic leader who should be used to debate. His seeming frustration during the engagement spoke to his discomfort with the process.
Dion by contrast has put himself in debates throughout the summer. Town halls across the country where any comer can ask questions. Climate change deniers, you name it, he's faced it. So he exceeded expectations last night, was viewed as the winner and struck a very nice tone. I would hope to see a similar performance tonight although the conventional wisdom is saying that expectations will again be low. It will be very tough to replicate that performance.
I would expect to see comparable performances for the other three leaders on par with last night as well, although others can speak to those prospects better than I can.
Harper is the wild card. Will we see Angry Harper or Sweater Vest Harper?
One other note...I hope Steve Paikin will be as strong as Bureau was last night in moderating and ensuring that the interaction did not become a train wreck.