With a rousing chant of “draft evidence-based policy!” and “sit down and talk with communities!” the Liberal leadership candidates stumbled out of the gates in the first leadership debate.
In a debate that felt plagued by complicated, unnecessary rules, repetitive questions, vague answers and very little substantive policy, we may be seeing the Liberal plan to rebuild coming over the tracks.
The environment, electoral reform, energy, social housing and First Nations issues were virtually the issues brought up in the two-and-a-bit hour debate, with some candidates occasionally inserting some of their niche issues. The format involved shuffling the candidates on and off stage with seemingly little rhyme or reason, wasting precious time that felt even more painful as candidates were forced into rapid-fire debate segments that barely let them finish a thought.
The debate, a relatively bland spectacle, wasn’t owned by any one candidate. Trudeau came across every bit the orator he would like to be, while pivoting back to ‘open dialog!’ whenever possible. His defensive positioning was contrasted by Marc Garneau’s loud, brash, and uncharacteristically energetic performance. Then there was Martha Hall Findlay’s blunt, scrappy appeal to policy and direct answers. Joyce Murray, for her part, probably got the most attention for borrowing Nathan Cullen’s joint nomination scheme. The rest, as expected, faded into the deafening silence.
The curly-haired boy wonder spent the entire debate downplaying policy initiatives for the sake of encouraging grassroots-style one-to-one engagement.
While it’s a nice soundbyte, Trudeau’s rhetorical foundation felt absurd after it was repeated for the dozenth time. Rather than answer what his gameplan would be to tackle First Nations issues, Trudeau insisted he would channel the energy of youth involved in IdleNoMore.
It’s to the point where Trudeau openly poo-pooh’d the very idea behind a policy debate — “it’s not enough to stand at a podium and shoot out great ideas,” he told reporters, insisting that talking to Canadians was critical. But, then, in the next breath, refuses to comment on policy ideas because he doesn’t want to simplify issues.
But, given he Liberals’ last two leaders were policy wonks with little charisma, one wonders if the answer for the Liberal ailment isn’t a charming face for a competent caucus. And certainly reforming the dialog on the national stage isn’t something to turn one’s nose up at.
Verdict: Rhetorical, shallow, but fun to listen to.
Garneau offered a voice that nobody has properly seen him use before. It was an inspiring vehicle for some intelligent policy ideas and perfectly legitimate critiques of this government. If anyone is the Bob Rae candidate, it’s Garneau.
But with that comes a certain level of rhetorical laziness. Garneau is more comfortable suggesting that Harper is the root of Canada’s — and the Liberal Party’s — problems, and has maintained a position more fitting with an official opposition party riding high in the polls, not third party teetering on the edge of electoral oblivion.
Garneau kicked off the debate by mocking Kim Campbell’s insistence that leadership races are no place for policy — and open jab at Trudeau — Garneau himself offered little in the way of a coherent blueprint for a Liberal Canada.
If the Liberal Party is looking for a candidate that, no matter the circumstance, will vow to get the party back in government in 2015 with as little change to the current organization as possible, then Garneau is your guy. While he may have improved his speeches, his admiration for the status quo has not changed.
In the scrums afterward, Garneau made a point to say that his track record is proven, and insinuated that Trudeau was too green-horned when pushed. It seems absurd, however, that Garneau is defaulting to his experience when he and Trudeau have spent the exact same amount of time in Parliament.
Verdict: Inspiring, thoughtful, but little more than a make-over.
Hall Findlay gave a sharp, critical performance that offers a hard-nosed alternative to both the air-y rhetoric of Trudeau and the bland, even-keel approach of Garneau.
But it’s curious that Hall Findlay has embarked on such a lone-wolf, take-no-prisoners attitude. Her blisteringly self-aware critiques, sometimes sent in an indirect or passive-aggressive manner against her own party, sometimes felt mean-spirited or bitter. The party, certainly, went in a very different direction than she had envisioned when she ran in 2006.
Her private-sector-oriented, middle-of-the-road approach contrasts with the other front-runners — and, even, the broader party itself — who have highlighted their progressive bona fides, seemingly with the understanding that any path to victory for the Liberals means going through the NDP.
While Hall Findlay didn’t shine tonight, but she offered a well-based blueprint for a party that leans center-right and can compete with the Conservatives on fiscal issues, while not having to try to beat out the NDP for the left-of-center vote.
Her vision was definitely the most interesting and thoughtful, which highlighted just how much the other candidates were ready to rest on their ideological laurels and not challenge the very core of where the party is, and where it needs to go.
She may not have won, but she probably did the best job.
Verdict: No frills, blunt, a little like a Tarantino revenge flick.
Definitely the most interesting candidate, even if it does feel a little derivative of a certain bald man from the NDP leadership race, Murray offered a nice-sounding vision for a party that involves electoral cooperation to beat the big bad Harper.
Murray’s plan is simplistic, no doubt, and she didn’t knock anything else out of the park on subsequent questions. But, at the very least, she didn’t try to make herself all things to all people her voice is one of an urbanite Vancouverite who lists the environment as a top concern. That center-left base of the party, or what’s left of it, may find her as a good horse to hitch their wagon to, especially in the face of an increasingly right-leaning field.
Verdict: Likeable, funny, but increasingly a one-trick-pony.
Cauchon sounded like a front-runner defending his position. Cauchon, however, is a distant fourth, if he’s lucky. He offered no substantive policy, he didn’t sufficiently convey his government experience, and he spent too much of his time with niceties and ‘thank-yous’ that ate up his time. He simply didn’t stand out in the way he needed to. Or, at all.
Verdict: Boring, empty, complacent.
Coyne tends to consider herself in the upper-tier of this race, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why.
Her nuggets of policy were neither fully fleshed-out nor altogether different than one might find in the 2011 platform, and she felt like little more than a female Garneau that nobody recognizes.
While she opened the night by railing against platitudes, she spent most of her night offering them. Her most substantive contribution to the First Nations debate was “scrap the Indian Act,” which is hardly new, let alone even a good idea.
Verdict: Just. Drop. Out.
One of the nobodies who needed to prove himself tonight, he looked more like a rodeo clown tonight than a real candidate. He pulled out lots of jokes, zingers and very little substantive policy. He repeatedly defaulted to jokes about Garneau’s trip to space, rather than on anything meaningful.
While he did have a good riff when asked about energy policy, he didn’t adequately explain why he deserved to be onstage.
Verdict: Funny, charismatic, but a joke.
What can one say about George Takach that couldn’t otherwise be explained by replaying a clip of him exclaiming “HIGH SPEED INTERNET!”
He tried, like Bertschi (to the point where many, including me, got them consistently confused) to define himself through humour and affability. But whereas Bertschi did, occasionally, underline some intelligent policy, Takach just half-assed some policy answers and diverted back to some broader policy lines that he had prepared.
Verdict: Yes, you’re a geek. We get it.
An oddly likeable debater, McCrimmon was well-spoken, knowledgeable, likeable, and generally a great participant.
Unfortunately, she got a bit lost in the shuffle.
Verdict: Who? Oh. Okay.
The idea of having a big, open race sounded great. But it’s starting to become obvious that Trudeau, Garneau, Hall Findlay and Muray are really the only ones who deserve to be there. If the next leader plans on doing more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, then they ought to be investigated better than this Abbott & Costello-styled slapstick that went on this afternoon.