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Why good just won’t cut it

WELLS: All the candidates are doing their jobs, but the real moment of peril lies ahead


 
Why good just won't cut it

Nathan Denette/CP

Just about the most fun I ever had on a campaign trail was with Dalton McGuinty when the lanky galoot was launching his first attempt to become Ontario’s premier, in 1999. Spoiler warning: it ended badly. Mike Harris, the lumbering Conservative incumbent, made short work of the rookie. But as the campaign began, at least McGuinty was having a little fun.

He stuck his head inside the door of a greasy spoon in Kingston and announced, “Hi everyone! We’re here to ruin your lunch.” A young mother handed him her baby to kiss for the cameras. “Lady, I’m gonna need to borrow your baby for the next month or so,” he said. She looked terrified.
McGuinty’s campaign staff looked worse. They knew what it would take them years to beat into their boss’s head: no matter how ridiculous this business is, you must never admit it is ridiculous. McGuinty no longer breaks through the fourth wall to comment on his own behaviour. He’s not as fun to cover as he used to be when he couldn’t win.

Michael Kelly, the American political reporter, used to say politics demands that a candidate look natural doing what nobody would naturally do. You spend the morning invading strangers’ personal space and the afternoon pretending to be fascinated by heavy machinery. You take questions from unfathomably surly reporters who will cheerfully pounce if you betray annoyance with them.

The highlight of any campaign is a debate in which you defend your past and projects, alone, in single combat against your enemies. If you win, you will have an office building full of advisers to help you with every decision and a country full of bureaucrats to put them into practice. Debates couldn’t have less to do with the skills leadership requires if they were juggling contests. Yet it’s the candidate who looks uncomfortable who’s penalized.
The surprise of this campaign is that Michael Ignatieff looks so comfortable doing all these odd things. The year he spent rehearsing was worth it. He gets good reviews wherever he goes. He put it all in danger by releasing his Liberal platform, because he gave his critics a target, where he had once been the one doing the shooting.

The platform assigns tidy piles of taxpayer money to a short list of woes. People who don’t like that sort of thing don’t like Ignatieff’s platform. The Conservatives say he will blow a multi-billion-dollar hole in the nation’s books. Which is only fair, because the Liberals said the same thing about Harper’s platform in 2006. Compared to his predecessor Stéphane Dion in 2008, Ignatieff is running a more compelling campaign that offers his opponents fewer targets.
But here’s the thing: that’s no guarantee of winning. The reason I’ve been thinking of Dalton McGuinty is not that he terrified that mom in Kingston 12 years ago. It’s that he ran a pretty good campaign and didn’t win. It was a real challenge to find ways to write about that.

Political reporters are hard-wired to write two kinds of stories: juggernaut and fiasco. We’re really good at telling you about a candidate who can’t be stopped, whose every step seems charmed. And we are pretty good at telling you about the sad sack whose every error is a prelude to another screw-up. Stéphane Dion in 2008 was an easy story to tell: missed opportunities, empty rooms, incomprehensible speeches, a party in disarray. As narrative, it was a piece of cake.

This year the campaign is harder to put a finger on. When they gather off-duty to discuss it, reporters often sound a bit annoyed about it all. Ignatieff is good at his work but, so far at least, is having trouble closing Stephen Harper’s lead. Harper sounds grumpy, and his helpers have the travelling press corps all but wrapped in cellophane to keep us off the big guy’s back, but his message—love the economy, fear the opposition—seems to be reaching the voters he wants it to reach.

Jack Layton’s eagerness to work with other parties makes him a poster boy for co-operation and flexibility. His struggle with cancer makes him one of this campaign’s most compelling human stories. Gilles Duceppe is in a bus somewhere, looking for threats he can make a show of protecting Quebecers against. Elizabeth May is outraged.
Everyone’s doing their job, and reasonably well to boot. This is the first campaign since at least 2004 when that’s been the case. Most of our recent elections have been mismatches, whether it was Jean Chrétien rolling over Stockwell Day in 2000, to an older, wilier Stephen Harper winning his rematch with Paul Martin in 2006.
A tie goes to the runner. Harper started ahead and, if you have to bet on this one, the safest assumption is that he will end ahead. Except for this: it is always when he is winning that Harper starts to make trouble for himself.

In the last week of the 2006 campaign, as I wrote in my book about those days, Harper “went into a shell. He had all but stopped speaking to reporters. The lockdown on candidates, already heavy-handed, became absurd.” Harper has clearly decided to run the entire 2011 campaign the way he ran the home stretch in 2006.
Something big will confound that strategy: the debates. The only good nights Stéphane Dion had in 2008 were the debates, when he could finally pin Harper down and force him to explain himself. And that was Stéphane Dion.

The moment of maximum peril for the Conservative leader lies ahead, in the debates on April 12 and 14. He cannot limit his opponents to four questions. He cannot have them ejected. He is one of the most agile politicians I’ve ever watched, but he has preferred to avoid a fair fight where he could, and now he has a fair fight coming at him.


 
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Why good just won’t cut it

  1. You spend the…afternoon pretending to be fascinated by heavy machinery

    That's the only part of campaigning I would enjoy.

  2. That Harper will be eviscerated by Ignatieff in the debates is a foregone conclusion.

    It will make no difference. We are at a point in our political and cultural history where the electorate is more than willing to ignore scandal, criminal activity, lying, utter incompetence and a complete lack of innovative policy: e.g. the Conservatives.

    Welcome to the age of stupid. We are doomed.

  3. That Harper will be eviscerated by Ignatieff in the debates is a foregone conclusion.

    It will make no difference. We are at a point in our political and cultural history where the electorate is more than willing to ignore scandal, criminal activity, lying, utter incompetence and a complete lack of innovative policy: e.g. the Conservatives.

    Welcome to the age of stupid. We are doomed.

    • I'd love to not agree with you.

    • If Ignatieff keeps claiming the corporate tax cuts will cost $6 billion when it sounds like the highest possible estimate is $4 billion something I predict it will be a big part of the debate and be a big plus for Harper.

      • … and if PM_SHrug's lot keep insisting the jets will cost 70-odd million instead of 150 and counting …

        • …and your still unable to write his name like an adult, without resorting to child-like name calling…

          • I've spent over a decade hearing about "Lieberals" and seeing everything even moderately related to the NDP being accused of being communist. I don't think Conservatives have a leg to stand on when somebody calls their leader a name.

          • As a fellow poster on here is quick to say, this amounts to the "But Mooommmmmm, they do it too" defence. Feel free to go through my posts. I'm not here to defend Conservatives in general, or anyone else. For the most part, people on these boards don't employ "Lieberal" or any other childish terms. But I'm willing to call those one out to. And besides, CONservative is used just as much. I will continue to call Mr. Westgate out, and others, in the hopes that these boards can for the most part be free of such childish antics.

          • I haven't noticed you calling out Conservatives on the same issue.

          • Oh you haven't noticed it, have you? Well, I must be a raging hypocrite.

            First, Mr. Westgate actually seems like a reasonable guy. That is to say, I would not waste my time calling out someone like chet. I think we can agree on that.

            Second, I simply don't see many instances of this childlike name calling going on around here. Please, show me an example of a poster who has constantly been using "Lieberal" or something, and I will promptly repent.

          • chet is uncalloutable. I think that's the one truth we're hearing in the past two weeks.

      • The $6 billion number came from Harper though. The Liberals have picked it up, but both of them are using the same number.

        • And both are wrong.

          In Harper's case, worst case scenario is it takes longer to pay down the deficit (and therefor longer to get our goodies). In Ignatieff's case, worst case scenario is that our deficit balloons to even greater levels than it was in the heart of the slowdown. Choose your poison.

          • Well, both are highly questionable. The point is that canucklehead was saying it gave Harper an advantage. It doesn't because he's using the same number.

            If Ignatieff's numbers are right, or he adjusts accordingly once (if) he gets into office and "suddenly" discovers the government numbers he was working with were wrong, then the the deficit may or may not balloon. Harper's record on the deficit, especially since his high spending got us into one before the recession.

            I won't be voting for either of them though. I've lived under enough NDP governments to understand they have a far better fiscal record than either the Liberals or the Conservatives.

      • I have heard that the total federal increase with the tax increase will be around 1.8 billion. Sounds good until they add in the 1.7 billion the provinces will lose because of it.

  4. Debates on 12 & 14 May…?

  5. Debates on 12 & 14 May…?

  6. Of 2012. When there'll actually be an election, as opposed to all this false hysteria.

    Sigh. Fixed. Thanks.

  7. I like this article as you take a step back and talk about the fact that journalists create narratives and stories. Inherent within these stories are assumptions where one candidate is portrayed as a hero with the other as a buffoon or heavy.

    For this particular election I think part of the reason Ignatieff has not lit the polls on fire (yet) is that it is too obvious that the media overwhelming is creating a narrative that he is on some surge when he really is doing just ok. Harper, when seen, is nowhere near as angry as we are being told. The narrative construct of this election is too obvious. The public are not – that – stupid.

  8. With the debates, the same will happen. Ignatieff could stammer and blunder through the whole thing (although I am sure he won't) and we – know – he will be declared the winner. We – know – Harper will be portrayed as the angry loser who blew a gasket even if he is as cool as Rhett Butler. The media en masse is being too clumsy these days in assuming they can drive a narrative instead of merely report (all of) the facts. And people are hip to that.

    The more the media covers campaigns with this slavish devotion to one candidate over another the more they hurt their own credibility. Perhaps journalists should discuss another approach; with Mayor Smitherman and former President Kerry as we approach yet another term of the Paul Martin Juggernaut that keeps on rolling.

  9. I like this article as you take a step back and talk about the fact that journalists create narratives and stories. Inherent within these stories are assumptions where one candidate is portrayed as a hero with the other as a buffoon or heavy.

    For this particular election I think part of the reason Ignatieff has not lit the polls on fire (yet) is that it is too obvious that the media overwhelming is creating a narrative that he is on some surge when he really is doing just ok. Harper, when seen, is nowhere near as angry as we are being told. The narrative construct of this election is too obvious. The public are not – that – stupid.

    • Yeah, I was interested in that also. The part about the off-duty media grumbling and being annoyed because the stupid public doesn't seem to be accepting what the media is offering them. That's pure gold.

  10. With the debates, the same will happen. Ignatieff could stammer and blunder through the whole thing (although I am sure he won't) and we – know – he will be declared the winner. We – know – Harper will be portrayed as the angry loser who blew a gasket even if he is as cool as Rhett Butler. The media en masse is being too clumsy these days in assuming they can drive a narrative instead of merely report (all of) the facts. And people are hip to that.

    The more the media covers campaigns with this slavish devotion to one candidate over another the more they hurt their own credibility. Perhaps journalists should discuss another approach; with Mayor Smitherman and former President Kerry as we approach yet another term of the Paul Martin Juggernaut that keeps on rolling.

    • And now that you've set it up, if they say Harper wins, then they're just being balanced, but no matter what, if they say Ignatieff wins, they've obviously been in the tank all along.

      Perhaps your kid brother was taken in by that heads I win, tails you lose type of choice, but we're a little less gullible than that around here.

      • You tell her Thwim! Yeah!

        Actually, I think she would say that if Iggy stammered and blundered, and Harpy was cool as Rhett Butler, and the media reported it that way, then they would be balanced. But if the media reports it, "Overwhelming domination by Igg-meister!", then it's further proof of their pet narrative.

  11. Good columns come from good columnists when the official narrative has been duly breached, if not lost entirely.

    These sentences alone justified the harvest of at least one or two trees:

    Political reporters are hard-wired to write two kinds of stories: juggernaut and fiasco. We're really good at telling you about a candidate who can't be stopped, whose every step seems charmed. And we are pretty good at telling you about the sad sack whose every error is a prelude to another screw-up.

    Quite so.

  12. Good columns come from good columnists when the official narrative has been duly breached, if not lost entirely.

    These sentences alone justified the harvest of at least one or two trees:

    Political reporters are hard-wired to write two kinds of stories: juggernaut and fiasco. We're really good at telling you about a candidate who can't be stopped, whose every step seems charmed. And we are pretty good at telling you about the sad sack whose every error is a prelude to another screw-up.

    Quite so.

  13. I think Ignatieff has a few tricks up his sleeve for the debate. In fact, I think that Liberal strategists most likely view the debates as Ignatieff's "make or break" opportunity.

    One of the aces up Ignatieff's sleeve? At an opportune moment, he'll launch into a well-rehearsed "Have you no decency, sir?" retort against Harper, and it will be about how Ignatieff feels unfairly victimized by Conservative attack ads. "I'm as Canadian as you, sir! How dare you attack my family!"

    It will be the most important monologue of Ignatieff's life, and it will be carefully crafted by Adam Goldenberg and other speechwriters and strategists to pack the maximum emotional wallop.

  14. I think Ignatieff has a few tricks up his sleeve for the debate. In fact, I think that Liberal strategists most likely view the debates as Ignatieff's "make or break" opportunity.

    One of the aces up Ignatieff's sleeve? At an opportune moment, he'll launch into a well-rehearsed "Have you no decency, sir?" retort against Harper, and it will be about how Ignatieff feels unfairly victimized by Conservative attack ads. "I'm as Canadian as you, sir! How dare you attack my family!"

    It will be the most important monologue of Ignatieff's life, and it will be carefully crafted by Adam Goldenberg and other speechwriters and strategists to pack the maximum emotional wallop.

    • It'll be the classic "I'm You" moment…

      Ok, glib off.

    • I don't doubt he could knock such a speech out of the park, but it would not be a good plan to make his biggest moment of the debate about himself.

    • CR, I think you're probably right there. The only counterpoint to that that occurs to me is this: during the last election, the debate pretty much consisted of the other opposition leaders ganging up on Harper. The same thing is likely this time: Harper as General Custer at Little Big Horn. One of the problems for that, potentially, for Ignatieff is how that looks. A lot of voters watching that last debate were put off by that appearance of shouting, ganging up, each opposition leader trying to be heard over the other, etc. Another problem is that such a debate is not Harper vs. Ignatieff, which is what the LPC strategists so badly want it to be. It's not like the Bloc, and especially the NDP, are just going to cede the floor to Ignatieff.

      • Yeah I remember watching that and thinking it looked good for Harper, it was like the four others added up to one of him.

        • Great observation. This time, it will be 3 v. 1, with Harper as the lone warrior battling the Coalition.

          • Thought I read somewhere that there will be a series of one-on-ones, rather than the round-table bear-baiting?

          • Good point. Harper might pine for the Little Big Horn scenario, ironically.

          • You did indeed. It should make for a much more interesting debate than last time – and should make it look less like a pile-on-Harper event. With the other three facing off against each other at times, it will also give them a chance to differentiate themselves and maybe dispel the whole coalition myth.

            I suspect Harper would prefer the appearance of a gang-up, as it would help him sell his fairy tale.

      • Excellent points. Layton and Duceppe won't want to cede the floor to Ignatieff, but Ignatieff will still try try to make the most of the time he has available. As you point out, LPC strategists prefer a 2-man debate, which would maximize the effectiveness of stunts like the "how dare you, sir" routine.

        Even if there's not going to be a Harper v. Ignatieff presidential-style debate (too bad, because that would be fascinating), I have a hunch that Ignatieff's handlers will still try to seize some sort of "You had an option, sir", or "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" moment, and that moment will probably be a fierce response to the attack ads. It will be interesting to watch.

        • I sometimes disagree with you CR, but I will admit that you frequently have the most piercing insights. I appreciated this entire thread.

          Now you've made me anticipate the debates just to see which narrative the Liberals decided on, dammit. I was planning on making a bowl of popcorn and watching Pleasantville.

          • Thanks for the kind words!

        • Again, the ads allege he's only in it for himself. If the subject that arouses his emotions the most is his own hurt feelings, what exactly does that prove to anyone?

          • True, but rest assured Ignatieff will also express plenty of outrage on behalf of Canadians and Parliament, relating to the contempt vote and many other things.

  15. It'll be the classic "I'm You" moment…

    Ok, glib off.

  16. I think Iggy has as much reason to be concerned about debates as Harper does, if not more.

    Debates are fairly placid, not difficult for Harper to do well, but Iggy has to fight his inclination to talk, and talk, and talk. Iggy does not want to come across as a Harvard prof or electorate will like him even less than they do already.

  17. I think Iggy has as much reason to be concerned about debates as Harper does, if not more.

    Debates are fairly placid, not difficult for Harper to do well, but Iggy has to fight his inclination to talk, and talk, and talk. Iggy does not want to come across as a Harvard prof or electorate will like him even less than they do already.

    • I agree. By repeating the Liberal play-book from 1993, Iggy has left himself vulnerable to accusations from the NDP that many of the red book promises weren't realized so this time, everyone should give their non-Harper votes to the dippers. This scenario already played out among the pundits on Power Play. It may or may not be a successful strategy for the NDP, but there's no question that it will be tougher for Iggy to take aim at Harper with the Jack in the corner yelling "liar" every five minutes. On the other hand, if Iggy keeps it statesmanly and focusses on policy, rather than going on the offence against Harper the whole time, he may come out ahead….because Iggy does statesmanly better than Harper.

    • Well – what Iggy has to do at the debates is much harder than what Harper has to do. But the difference is that Iggy is much more capable so it's still Harper who has to be concerned more about the debates.

  18. I am looking forward to the debates. At least standing face to face, Ignatieff hopefully will stop saying "when rain water turns to beer" and "when pigs fly". As far as Jack and Gilles, it is harder to call someone a liar to their face. Could be interesting.

  19. I am looking forward to the debates. At least standing face to face, Ignatieff hopefully will stop saying "when rain water turns to beer" and "when pigs fly". As far as Jack and Gilles, it is harder to call someone a liar to their face. Could be interesting.

    • Duceppe at least, will have no problem whatsoever. For one thing he's got little to lose by doing it, and lots to gain. Harper being no-ones poster boy in QC.

      • QCis not happy with Gilles, not a happy as they were.The NDP are doing well there.

        • Doing well is relative. The BQ have a lock on QC. Wish it wasn't so, but it is.

  20. And now that you've set it up, if they say Harper wins, then they're just being balanced, but no matter what, if they say Ignatieff wins, they've obviously been in the tank all along.

    Perhaps your kid brother was taken in by that heads I win, tails you lose type of choice, but we're a little less gullible than that around here.

  21. I guess in Michael Ignatieff's world it's better to support a sexist candidate than a White Supremacist. Let me get this straight now. Sexist attitudes OK but we draw the line with White Supremacists. I'm just glad I don't support this party of extremists.

  22. I guess in Michael Ignatieff's world it's better to support a sexist candidate than a White Supremacist. Let me get this straight now. Sexist attitudes OK but we draw the line with White Supremacists. I'm just glad I don't support this party of extremists.

    • Well of course the guy doesn't have sexist attitudes at all. He got trapped by a reporter into giving an example from his judicial experience, and chose the wrong example, and mired himself in doo-doo. Tom Flanagan had an interesting take on this tonight on P&P. He said the real point the guy was trying to make is a serious and valid one, that has got lost in the screaming of everyone trying to distance themselves from any hint of condoning sexual assault.

    • "I'm just glad I don't support this party of extremists."

      I just choked on my Diet Coke. Warn a guy when you're going to say something like that!

  23. Duceppe at least, will have no problem whatsoever. For one thing he's got little to lose by doing it, and lots to gain. Harper being no-ones poster boy in QC.

  24. QCis not happy with Gilles, not a happy as they were.The NDP are doing well there.

  25. One issue that none of the leaders is addressing is the drop in the number of voting Canadians. As shown in this article, participation in the electoral process has dropped to all-time lows since Confederation:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2011/03/cana

    Perhaps all five major Party leaders need to better understand just why Canadians are so disinterested in them, their Parties and their platforms.

  26. One issue that none of the leaders is addressing is the drop in the number of voting Canadians. As shown in this article, participation in the electoral process has dropped to all-time lows since Confederation:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2011/03/cana

    Perhaps all five major Party leaders need to better understand just why Canadians are so disinterested in them, their Parties and their platforms.

  27. "He is one of the most agile politicians I've ever watched, but he has preferred to avoid a fair fight where he could, and now he has a fair fight coming at him."

    Hardly fair if he is surrounded by three opponents attacking him at every turn. but that 's the debate scenario. I look forward to the rumoured one on one with Ignatieff. There might be the moment.

  28. "He is one of the most agile politicians I've ever watched, but he has preferred to avoid a fair fight where he could, and now he has a fair fight coming at him."

    Hardly fair if he is surrounded by three opponents attacking him at every turn. but that 's the debate scenario. I look forward to the rumoured one on one with Ignatieff. There might be the moment.

    • I've dubbed it "Chicken Delight".

  29. I don't doubt he could knock such a speech out of the park, but it would not be a good plan to make his biggest moment of the debate about himself.

  30. I'd love to not agree with you.

  31. Re: Team 2012 — it's not that your predictions are ever wrong, Paul, it's just that it sometimes takes a while for the world to come into alignment with them!

  32. Re: Team 2012 — it's not that your predictions are ever wrong, Paul, it's just that it sometimes takes a while for the world to come into alignment with them!

  33. I've dubbed it "Chicken Delight".

  34. CR, I think you're probably right there. The only counterpoint to that that occurs to me is this: during the last election, the debate pretty much consisted of the other opposition leaders ganging up on Harper. The same thing is likely this time: Harper as General Custer at Little Big Horn. One of the problems for that, potentially, for Ignatieff is how that looks. A lot of voters watching that last debate were put off by that appearance of shouting, ganging up, each opposition leader trying to be heard over the other, etc. Another problem is that such a debate is not Harper vs. Ignatieff, which is what the LPC strategists so badly want it to be. It's not like the Bloc, and especially the NDP, are just going to cede the floor to Ignatieff.

  35. If Ignatieff keeps claiming the corporate tax cuts will cost $6 billion when it sounds like the highest possible estimate is $4 billion something I predict it will be a big part of the debate and be a big plus for Harper.

  36. I've consistently thought that LPC supporters are way too optimistic about the debates: it's one thing to hope and wish that Iggy's going to leave a puddle where Harper once stood; it's quite another to EXPECT that that is what's going to happen. Harper neither an idiot, nor an inexperienced lightweight. I admire Iggy's intellectual and other accomplishments and abilities as much as anyone, but to me it just seems foolish for Liberal supporters to put so much stock in an assumption that a massive, decisive victory by Iggy in the debates is some sort of foregone conclusion.

  37. Very good article, Paul.

    I do take issue, though, with your characterization of these TV debates as a "fair fight". For years now, most clear-thinking people have seen these TV debates as an embarrassing spectacle, full of candidates shouting at and over one another, etc. Usually they're inane, the candidates' answers are just a bunch of canned sound bites, etc. Something under formal debate society rules would be a "fair fight" but not these gong shows.

  38. Very good article, Paul.

    I do take issue, though, with your characterization of these TV debates as a "fair fight". For years now, most clear-thinking people have seen these TV debates as an embarrassing spectacle, full of candidates shouting at and over one another, etc. Usually they're inane, the candidates' answers are just a bunch of canned sound bites, etc. Something under formal debate society rules would be a "fair fight" but not these gong shows.

    • Actually, 2008 was the first year I thought we got more value out of our party leaders' debates than the Americans did out of their presidential debates. Sitting everyone down turned out to be all it took to calm them down considerably.

      • Perhaps the inclusion of chairs enhances the Paikin-effect.

      • You've got a better memory of that one than me (not surprising). And I suppose I'm projecting my reaction to those debates onto everyone else. I've always found them inane, and I probably always will, because as a political junkie I find everything that comes out of the candidates' mouths to be nothing but pre-programmed krap designed to score points with target demographic groups (e.g., how many times can you say "families" and "working families" in one night?). I know exactly what they're doing and why and it BUGS me. It reminds me of what Eddie Greenspan once said, that lawyers make terrible witnesses in court — because they know exactly what the lawyer cross-examining them is trying to do, and it really irritates them.

  39. Yeah I remember watching that and thinking it looked good for Harper, it was like the four others added up to one of him.

  40. Great observation. This time, it will be 3 v. 1, with Harper as the lone warrior battling the Coalition.

  41. Fair fight against Harper? Please, its very true that the others gang up on him unfairly with the media in their pocket,s, but ending with a Conservative Victory and the defence of truth, justice and free speech.

  42. Fair fight against Harper? Please, its very true that the others gang up on him unfairly with the media in their pocket,s, but ending with a Conservative Victory and the defence of truth, justice and free speech.

    • Iggy offered to have an additional one-on-one debate, which ought to have been fair. I think most people are disappointed Harper declined. It would have been riveting I'm sure.

      • Technically, Harper offered to have a one on one debate with the leader of the coalition. When the coalition parties made it clear that they would prefer to have all the separate leaders participate, Harper accepted that format instead.

        Calm down thumbmonkeys, that actually is the alternative (read: Harper's) narrative.

        • That is the alternative narrative, but that doesn't make it valid. If Iggy had agreed to shut out the other parties, the Tories would have been the first group to pounce on them for being undemocratic and exclusionary.

          The unbiased perspective is that Harper (probably mistakenly) offered a one-on-one debate, and backed down. To avoid being seen to have backed down, he suggested an untenable solution: the one-on-one debate would have to replace the traditional all-party debate. There's no rule against having a supplementary one-on-one debate, after all.

          Why carry water for your team when they're being ridiculous?

          • Unbiased? Okay.

            Well, obviously I can't claim to be unbiased, because you've already staked your claim there, but I really do think that Harper's original intent was to make this a Harper vs. Coalition issue. It's hard to find the original video, but this article quotes the original challenge: http://www.theprovince.com/story_print.html?id=45

            Part of the problem is that I think Harper did not do a good job of articulating the challenge this way, but remember, your the unbiased one not me. He wanted to say, "the real choice in this election is us or a coalition led by ignatieff, so perhaps the debate could just be the two of us". If Ignatieff had accepted, they would not have accused him of being exclusionary (now, remember, your the unbias one, not me, but I'll state my bias opinion anyway), they would have declared all the louder that they were correct and that Ignatieff was posturing himself even further to lead a coalition.

            Anyway, the media did not report it this way. They reported that Harper offered a challenge and then backed down once Ignatieff accepted. Clearly, the media has staked out the unbias position on this one.

  43. Actually, 2008 was the first year I thought we got more value out of our party leaders' debates than the Americans did out of their presidential debates. Sitting everyone down turned out to be all it took to calm them down considerably.

  44. Excellent points. Layton and Duceppe won't want to cede the floor to Ignatieff, but Ignatieff will still try try to make the most of the time he has available. As you point out, LPC strategists prefer a 2-man debate, which would maximize the effectiveness of stunts like the "how dare you, sir" routine.

    Even if there's not going to be a Harper v. Ignatieff presidential-style debate (too bad, because that would be fascinating), I have a hunch that Ignatieff's handlers will still try to seize some sort of "You had an option, sir", or "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" moment, and that moment will probably be a fierce response to the attack ads. It will be interesting to watch.

  45. Debates couldn't have less to do with the skills leadership requires if they were juggling contests.

    Which is why we should get rid of them entirely. They are a pointless bit of theater, nothing more. At least a juggling contest would be interesting. The first politician who shows me he can juggle while riding a unicycle has my vote. Unless it's Jack Layton.

  46. Debates couldn't have less to do with the skills leadership requires if they were juggling contests.

    Which is why we should get rid of them entirely. They are a pointless bit of theater, nothing more. At least a juggling contest would be interesting. The first politician who shows me he can juggle while riding a unicycle has my vote. Unless it's Jack Layton.

    • Reminds me of John Turner's brilliant nickname for Question Period: bullsh*t theatre.

    • They are less vacuous than the rest of the campaign.

    • The first politician who shows me he can juggle while riding a unicycle has my vote.

      Sexist!

  47. If Harper doesn't win a majority goverment and he is defeated at the fisrt vote and the GG alows iggy to form a goverment with the dip-bloc coalitionCanada as we know it will not last long.The liberal left media has not been talking about iggy's green shaft, he will be coming to tax Alberta and Saskatchewan and when he does we will fight back and demand a vote on Albertas place in Canada.iggy will be able to add the break up of of Canada to he considerable resume.

  48. If Harper doesn't win a majority goverment and he is defeated at the fisrt vote and the GG alows iggy to form a goverment with the dip-bloc coalitionCanada as we know it will not last long.The liberal left media has not been talking about iggy's green shaft, he will be coming to tax Alberta and Saskatchewan and when he does we will fight back and demand a vote on Albertas place in Canada.iggy will be able to add the break up of of Canada to he considerable resume.

    • Most ABs are a hell of a lot smarter then that. Besides, there are a lot of folks not born in AB. What are you gonna do? Kick them all out?

      • I hate to tell it to you, but why do you think Alberta almost never votes Liberal. We still remember the NEP. If people in Ontario think that they can do that again, they haven't been watching us at all. If a coalition (or partnership, or whatever) gov't tries to rape us again, we will turn into Quebec. Try to keep us in the confederation. Not saying that I in any way shape or form want to leave, but when I see how much Alberta has paid into confederation, without the NEP, I get mad just thinking about paying more. It will be sold however it is sold, but it will simply be a transfer of wealth. (which is what the NEP was proven to be.)

        • Your memory is pretty short. You don't seem to be able to remember when Ontario carried the federation [ plus AB recieved help fom Ontario/ federal govt prior to the sixties to help develope its oil potential] and without half the bleating about heavy loads that we often hear from AB. Agreed AB isn't in the same league as QC, the world champion of victim whiners, but attitudes like yours have AB playing catch up. AB should be proud of carrying the country – Ontario was[ now they're bleating of course]
          I lived through the NEP in AB. It was bad. It was dumb policy. But i also noticed how folks like Klein kept up the dirge until people like you still dream about it. It was 30 odd years ago. Are you going to hold onto that grudge forever?
          One of ABs few problems is that it has no institutional memory…apart from cherishing long gone grievances.

          • My memory is not short, I just like to see the big picture. Ontario has only recently become a have-not province, this is true. But a few things have to be taken into consideration. First, Alberta has never had a say (enough votes) to push federal policy, Ontario has. This makes a difference when making decisions on who pays what. Also, we didn't have the news coverage we did then,(60's) so people may not have known, and if they did, had fewer ways to express their displeasure.
            Basically, Alberta is paying into confederation now – that isn't a problem. The problem was a government that deliberately took from us, for the express purpose of buying votes elsewhere, and keeping our political power down. (NEP) Big difference.
            Also, on a per capita basis, Alberta is putting in much more by comparison.
            It isn't 'holding onto a grudge' it is remembering the past, to prevent it from happening in the future. History repeats itself. I listen to Ignatieff talk about 'taxing the oilsands' (overtaxed by industry standards right now) and it sounds the same. Let's buy some votes in Ontario at the expense of Alberta. They don't vote Liberal anyway.
            Glad to see you have such a high opinion of Albertans as well.

    • If the minority is very small, almost a tie, I could see something like that happening. If it's the same as now or a slightly stronger minority, then no. But it likely wouldn't go four years. However, even with the tiniest minority, if PM_SHrug would stop, well, shrugging and goading everyone to take him down so he can have yet another go at his blessed majority, and would actually cooperate, he might be surprised at the response.

      • Harper has had to negotiate to get every bill passed. Have you not noticed; it was a minority gov't. The opposition just claims that he didn't compromise enough. I guess people will believe the party that they support on this one.

    • I can see you've given this a lot of thought.

  49. Yes, I have been interested in how Iggy will do at debates for a while. Iggy is one of those, 'on the one hand, and on the other, but there was a time' … etc type of talkers and not every one thinks its great.

    Libs don't seem to mind to that Iggy often gets into argument with himself but non – partisans not as impressed.

    It is easy for Harper to win debate – don't say anything stupid and sit there looking leader-like while the others bite and yap at his heels.

  50. Yes, I have been interested in how Iggy will do at debates for a while. Iggy is one of those, 'on the one hand, and on the other, but there was a time' … etc type of talkers and not every one thinks its great.

    Libs don't seem to mind to that Iggy often gets into argument with himself but non – partisans not as impressed.

    It is easy for Harper to win debate – don't say anything stupid and sit there looking leader-like while the others bite and yap at his heels.

    • you say bite and yap at his heels like there is nothing of substance the opposition leaders could bring up that might resonate. Jack Layton is wily enough to score some shots, and Gilles Duceppe is no slouch.
      While you think it's easy for Harper to win debate, he can be thin skinned at times and in his haste to score shots of his own he could trip up. You don't think he can be prodded?

      Advantage SH maybe, but slam dunk?

  51. … and if PM_SHrug's lot keep insisting the jets will cost 70-odd million instead of 150 and counting …

  52. Thought I read somewhere that there will be a series of one-on-ones, rather than the round-table bear-baiting?

  53. I agree. By repeating the Liberal play-book from 1993, Iggy has left himself vulnerable to accusations from the NDP that many of the red book promises weren't realized so this time, everyone should give their non-Harper votes to the dippers. This scenario already played out among the pundits on Power Play. It may or may not be a successful strategy for the NDP, but there's no question that it will be tougher for Iggy to take aim at Harper with the Jack in the corner yelling "liar" every five minutes. On the other hand, if Iggy keeps it statesmanly and focusses on policy, rather than going on the offence against Harper the whole time, he may come out ahead….because Iggy does statesmanly better than Harper.

  54. " He cannot limit his opponents to four questions. He cannot have them ejected. He is one of the most agile politicians I've ever watched,…"

    Some what surprising. I wonder who you would rate above him? You're too young to have covered Trudeau, Mulroney…doubtful…Martin…nah…has to be Chretien.
    Unless it is a Canadian at all?

  55. " He cannot limit his opponents to four questions. He cannot have them ejected. He is one of the most agile politicians I've ever watched,…"

    Some what surprising. I wonder who you would rate above him? You're too young to have covered Trudeau, Mulroney…doubtful…Martin…nah…has to be Chretien.
    Unless it is a Canadian at all?

  56. Well of course the guy doesn't have sexist attitudes at all. He got trapped by a reporter into giving an example from his judicial experience, and chose the wrong example, and mired himself in doo-doo. Tom Flanagan had an interesting take on this tonight on P&P. He said the real point the guy was trying to make is a serious and valid one, that has got lost in the screaming of everyone trying to distance themselves from any hint of condoning sexual assault.

  57. Most ABs are a hell of a lot smarter then that. Besides, there are a lot of folks not born in AB. What are you gonna do? Kick them all out?

  58. Good point. Harper might pine for the Little Big Horn scenario, ironically.

  59. Doing well is relative. The BQ have a lock on QC. Wish it wasn't so, but it is.

  60. If the minority is very small, almost a tie, I could see something like that happening. If it's the same as now or a slightly stronger minority, then no. But it likely wouldn't go four years. However, even with the tiniest minority, if PM_SHrug would stop, well, shrugging and goading everyone to take him down so he can have yet another go at his blessed majority, and would actually cooperate, he might be surprised at the response.

  61. I sometimes disagree with you CR, but I will admit that you frequently have the most piercing insights. I appreciated this entire thread.

    Now you've made me anticipate the debates just to see which narrative the Liberals decided on, dammit. I was planning on making a bowl of popcorn and watching Pleasantville.

  62. Well – what Iggy has to do at the debates is much harder than what Harper has to do. But the difference is that Iggy is much more capable so it's still Harper who has to be concerned more about the debates.

  63. "I'm just glad I don't support this party of extremists."

    I just choked on my Diet Coke. Warn a guy when you're going to say something like that!

  64. Perhaps the inclusion of chairs enhances the Paikin-effect.

  65. You've got a better memory of that one than me (not surprising). And I suppose I'm projecting my reaction to those debates onto everyone else. I've always found them inane, and I probably always will, because as a political junkie I find everything that comes out of the candidates' mouths to be nothing but pre-programmed krap designed to score points with target demographic groups (e.g., how many times can you say "families" and "working families" in one night?). I know exactly what they're doing and why and it BUGS me. It reminds me of what Eddie Greenspan once said, that lawyers make terrible witnesses in court — because they know exactly what the lawyer cross-examining them is trying to do, and it really irritates them.

  66. I can see you've given this a lot of thought.

  67. Reminds me of John Turner's brilliant nickname for Question Period: bullsh*t theatre.

  68. you say bite and yap at his heels like there is nothing of substance the opposition leaders could bring up that might resonate. Jack Layton is wily enough to score some shots, and Gilles Duceppe is no slouch.
    While you think it's easy for Harper to win debate, he can be thin skinned at times and in his haste to score shots of his own he could trip up. You don't think he can be prodded?

    Advantage SH maybe, but slam dunk?

  69. Iggy offered to have an additional one-on-one debate, which ought to have been fair. I think most people are disappointed Harper declined. It would have been riveting I'm sure.

  70. They are less vacuous than the rest of the campaign.

  71. You did indeed. It should make for a much more interesting debate than last time – and should make it look less like a pile-on-Harper event. With the other three facing off against each other at times, it will also give them a chance to differentiate themselves and maybe dispel the whole coalition myth.

    I suspect Harper would prefer the appearance of a gang-up, as it would help him sell his fairy tale.

  72. Again, the ads allege he's only in it for himself. If the subject that arouses his emotions the most is his own hurt feelings, what exactly does that prove to anyone?

  73. I found it interesting that Paul admits that he and his fellow "reporters" are "annoyed" that the Count has been unable to close the gap between himself and PM Harper in the polls. You're not alone in that observation Mr. Wells. In fact I'd say most fair minded people would say that the "annoyed" media have torqued up their hysterical, activist efforts against the PM, while soft peddling (campaigning) the coalitionists and their inserted leader Grandpa Iggster and his back to the 1970's tour. It's refreshing when a "reporter" admits the media share an ingrained ideological bent that overtly and sympathetically leans Liberal. As for the media consortiums debates, I expect them to be about as fair and balanced as the Liberal leaning media consortiums campaign coverage has been to date. I wonder if the medias "annoyance" at Iggos inability to close the gap in the polls and their Liberal sympathies will influence how the media consortium set up the debates. Oh, yeah… of course it will… never mind.

  74. I found it interesting that Paul admits that he and his fellow "reporters" are "annoyed" that the Count has been unable to close the gap between himself and PM Harper in the polls. You're not alone in that observation Mr. Wells. In fact I'd say most fair minded people would say that the "annoyed" media have torqued up their hysterical, activist efforts against the PM, while soft peddling (campaigning) the coalitionists and their inserted leader Grandpa Iggster and his back to the 1970's tour. It's refreshing when a "reporter" admits the media share an ingrained ideological bent that overtly and sympathetically leans Liberal. As for the media consortiums debates, I expect them to be about as fair and balanced as the Liberal leaning media consortiums campaign coverage has been to date. I wonder if the medias "annoyance" at Iggos inability to close the gap in the polls and their Liberal sympathies will influence how the media consortium set up the debates. Oh, yeah… of course it will… never mind.

  75. …and your still unable to write his name like an adult, without resorting to child-like name calling…

  76. Yeah, I was interested in that also. The part about the off-duty media grumbling and being annoyed because the stupid public doesn't seem to be accepting what the media is offering them. That's pure gold.

  77. You tell her Thwim! Yeah!

    Actually, I think she would say that if Iggy stammered and blundered, and Harpy was cool as Rhett Butler, and the media reported it that way, then they would be balanced. But if the media reports it, "Overwhelming domination by Igg-meister!", then it's further proof of their pet narrative.

  78. Technically, Harper offered to have a one on one debate with the leader of the coalition. When the coalition parties made it clear that they would prefer to have all the separate leaders participate, Harper accepted that format instead.

    Calm down thumbmonkeys, that actually is the alternative (read: Harper's) narrative.

  79. The $6 billion number came from Harper though. The Liberals have picked it up, but both of them are using the same number.

  80. I've spent over a decade hearing about "Lieberals" and seeing everything even moderately related to the NDP being accused of being communist. I don't think Conservatives have a leg to stand on when somebody calls their leader a name.

  81. Actually, I think the Canadian media is trying to get their shots in early. After all, SUN TV will be arriving shortly and laying waste to all of these phone scandals laid at the feet of Harper.

  82. After all, this is the same Canadian media that spent 10 days talking about the scandal of Harper eating or not eating a communion wafer….though I'm not sure Paul would lower himself to that level. That''s more of an Aaron Wherry type thing.

  83. Actually, I think the Canadian media is trying to get their shots in early. After all, SUN TV will be arriving shortly and laying waste to all of these phone scandals laid at the feet of Harper.

    • SUNTV will actually have to be careful not to go extreme too quickly, or they run the risk of becoming an irrelevant parody.

      And if they're intending on actually providing balanced reporting, the more the merrier.

  84. After all, this is the same Canadian media that spent 10 days talking about the scandal of Harper eating or not eating a communion wafer….though I'm not sure Paul would lower himself to that level. That''s more of an Aaron Wherry type thing.

  85. oops…

    first post 8th last word…should be "phoney"

  86. oops…

    first post 8th last word…should be "phoney"

  87. As a fellow poster on here is quick to say, this amounts to the "But Mooommmmmm, they do it too" defence. Feel free to go through my posts. I'm not here to defend Conservatives in general, or anyone else. For the most part, people on these boards don't employ "Lieberal" or any other childish terms. But I'm willing to call those one out to. And besides, CONservative is used just as much. I will continue to call Mr. Westgate out, and others, in the hopes that these boards can for the most part be free of such childish antics.

  88. And both are wrong.

    In Harper's case, worst case scenario is it takes longer to pay down the deficit (and therefor longer to get our goodies). In Ignatieff's case, worst case scenario is that our deficit balloons to even greater levels than it was in the heart of the slowdown. Choose your poison.

  89. I haven't noticed you calling out Conservatives on the same issue.

  90. Well, both are highly questionable. The point is that canucklehead was saying it gave Harper an advantage. It doesn't because he's using the same number.

    If Ignatieff's numbers are right, or he adjusts accordingly once (if) he gets into office and "suddenly" discovers the government numbers he was working with were wrong, then the the deficit may or may not balloon. Harper's record on the deficit, especially since his high spending got us into one before the recession.

    I won't be voting for either of them though. I've lived under enough NDP governments to understand they have a far better fiscal record than either the Liberals or the Conservatives.

  91. Oh you haven't noticed it, have you? Well, I must be a raging hypocrite.

    First, Mr. Westgate actually seems like a reasonable guy. That is to say, I would not waste my time calling out someone like chet. I think we can agree on that.

    Second, I simply don't see many instances of this childlike name calling going on around here. Please, show me an example of a poster who has constantly been using "Lieberal" or something, and I will promptly repent.

  92. That is the alternative narrative, but that doesn't make it valid. If Iggy had agreed to shut out the other parties, the Tories would have been the first group to pounce on them for being undemocratic and exclusionary.

    The unbiased perspective is that Harper (probably mistakenly) offered a one-on-one debate, and backed down. To avoid being seen to have backed down, he suggested an untenable solution: the one-on-one debate would have to replace the traditional all-party debate. There's no rule against having a supplementary one-on-one debate, after all.

    Why carry water for your team when they're being ridiculous?

  93. Unbiased? Okay.

    Well, obviously I can't claim to be unbiased, because you've already staked your claim there, but I really do think that Harper's original intent was to make this a Harper vs. Coalition issue. It's hard to find the original video, but this article quotes the original challenge: http://www.theprovince.com/story_print.html?id=45

    Part of the problem is that I think Harper did not do a good job of articulating the challenge this way, but remember, your the unbiased one not me. He wanted to say, "the real choice in this election is us or a coalition led by ignatieff, so perhaps the debate could just be the two of us". If Ignatieff had accepted, they would not have accused him of being exclusionary (now, remember, your the unbias one, not me, but I'll state my bias opinion anyway), they would have declared all the louder that they were correct and that Ignatieff was posturing himself even further to lead a coalition.

    Anyway, the media did not report it this way. They reported that Harper offered a challenge and then backed down once Ignatieff accepted. Clearly, the media has staked out the unbias position on this one.

  94. chet is uncalloutable. I think that's the one truth we're hearing in the past two weeks.

  95. Dalton McGuinty lost in 1999 because the Conservatives had spent months running ads on television and the radio saying "Dalton McGuinty,he's just not up to the job."

    And then he turned in an absolutely horrible perfomrance in the Leaders' Debate.

    The Stephen Harper Conservatives have been doing the same thing to Michael Ignateiff but I think the former BBC host will be pretty comfortable on television.

  96. Dalton McGuinty lost in 1999 because the Conservatives had spent months running ads on television and the radio saying "Dalton McGuinty,he's just not up to the job."

    And then he turned in an absolutely horrible perfomrance in the Leaders' Debate.

    The Stephen Harper Conservatives have been doing the same thing to Michael Ignateiff but I think the former BBC host will be pretty comfortable on television.

  97. I have heard that the total federal increase with the tax increase will be around 1.8 billion. Sounds good until they add in the 1.7 billion the provinces will lose because of it.

  98. Harper has had to negotiate to get every bill passed. Have you not noticed; it was a minority gov't. The opposition just claims that he didn't compromise enough. I guess people will believe the party that they support on this one.

  99. I hate to tell it to you, but why do you think Alberta almost never votes Liberal. We still remember the NEP. If people in Ontario think that they can do that again, they haven't been watching us at all. If a coalition (or partnership, or whatever) gov't tries to rape us again, we will turn into Quebec. Try to keep us in the confederation. Not saying that I in any way shape or form want to leave, but when I see how much Alberta has paid into confederation, without the NEP, I get mad just thinking about paying more. It will be sold however it is sold, but it will simply be a transfer of wealth. (which is what the NEP was proven to be.)

  100. Your memory is pretty short. You don't seem to be able to remember when Ontario carried the federation [ plus AB recieved help fom Ontario/ federal govt prior to the sixties to help develope its oil potential] and without half the bleating about heavy loads that we often hear from AB. Agreed AB isn't in the same league as QC, the world champion of victim whiners, but attitudes like yours have AB playing catch up. AB should be proud of carrying the country – Ontario was[ now they're bleating of course]
    I lived through the NEP in AB. It was bad. It was dumb policy. But i also noticed how folks like Klein kept up the dirge until people like you still dream about it. It was 30 odd years ago. Are you going to hold onto that grudge forever?
    One of ABs few problems is that it has no institutional memory…apart from cherishing long gone grievances.

  101. True, but rest assured Ignatieff will also express plenty of outrage on behalf of Canadians and Parliament, relating to the contempt vote and many other things.

  102. Thanks for the kind words!

  103. The first politician who shows me he can juggle while riding a unicycle has my vote.

    Sexist!

  104. SUNTV will actually have to be careful not to go extreme too quickly, or they run the risk of becoming an irrelevant parody.

    And if they're intending on actually providing balanced reporting, the more the merrier.

  105. My memory is not short, I just like to see the big picture. Ontario has only recently become a have-not province, this is true. But a few things have to be taken into consideration. First, Alberta has never had a say (enough votes) to push federal policy, Ontario has. This makes a difference when making decisions on who pays what. Also, we didn't have the news coverage we did then,(60's) so people may not have known, and if they did, had fewer ways to express their displeasure.
    Basically, Alberta is paying into confederation now – that isn't a problem. The problem was a government that deliberately took from us, for the express purpose of buying votes elsewhere, and keeping our political power down. (NEP) Big difference.
    Also, on a per capita basis, Alberta is putting in much more by comparison.
    It isn't 'holding onto a grudge' it is remembering the past, to prevent it from happening in the future. History repeats itself. I listen to Ignatieff talk about 'taxing the oilsands' (overtaxed by industry standards right now) and it sounds the same. Let's buy some votes in Ontario at the expense of Alberta. They don't vote Liberal anyway.
    Glad to see you have such a high opinion of Albertans as well.

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