Not a lot of people watched tonight’s first Canadian leaders debate — about 30,000 watched it streaming on YouTube, with more on some smaller TV channels. Four party leaders were present — Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May. With Paul Wells representing the Media Party as the emcee.
May’s presence was weird, as it always is. Not just because she’s ideologically extreme, and a bit of a conspiracy theorist — babbling away about Harper creating secret police; or how natural gas has a higher environmental footprint than coal. But also because she has nothing to lose by making an ass out of herself.
But she’s not an equal opportunity attacker; she’s really Justin Trudeau’s tag-team debating partner, alternating between going after Harper or Mulcair. Even on the one subject she disagrees passionately with Trudeau about — he supports the anti-terrorism law, C-51, and she opposes it — she just could not bring herself to attack her co-leader, Trudeau.
Harper came across well as a fatherly figure — trustworthy on the economy and security. Mulcair came across as fatherly too, but at times he seemed wobbly on details. Justin Trudeau played to his stereotype — the young, dashing former drama teacher who deeply loves Canada, and can rattle off Hallmark Card-style banalities to prove it.
The scariest part of the debate was when all four leftists (including Wells) piled on Harper over the oilsands and pipelines. It’s terrifying, in that if any of the opposition ever acted on their anti-oil declarations, Canada’s economy would tumble into a deep recession, countless jobs would be lost, and we’d simply import more OPEC oil. They truly have no clue — not surprising, given that none of Harper’s opponents have a degree in economics, or have held a meaningful private sector job. They just know that bashing oil and gas sells, at least to the Media Party, and to well-funded environmental NGOs.
The best part surely was a similarly lop-sided piling on, against the new requirement that Canadians show ID before voting. That’s a 90%+ winner with voters, but it appalled all of Harper’s opponents. He knows it and he loved it.
All in all, nothing really moved. And with two months to go till the election, the only enduring value of tonight’s debate will be as feedstock for future TV attack ads for each party against the other.