Megapundit: Defending the indefensible—with a smile

Must-reads: James Travers in Nova Scotia; Christie Blatchford on Julie Couillard; Jeffrey Simpson on the debate.

What debate were you watching?
This much we all agree on: Elizabeth May didn’t win.

The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson calls last night’s leaders’ debate for Gilles Duceppe—and really, how could you not? The Bloc Québécois leader “has never made a decision in government to defend, and never will, [so] he could keep complaining, criticizing and implying, which he does with exceptional cleverness,” that Stephen Harper’s Ottawa, like all the Ottawas that preceded it, is out to screw Quebeckers. If anyone changed his or her mind last night, Simpson predicts, it was probably in the Bloc’s favour—which is to Harper’s considerable disadvantage. Stéphane Dion didn’t wow, Simpson adds, but had at least one very good moment when he attacked Harper for what Simpson calls “his excessively partisan governing style.”

The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin fearlessly declare[s] there was no runaway winner or obvious loser.” Harper didn’t douse the flames of arts funding and youth justice, and probably didn’t win over many “sovereigntist fence-sitters” unsure of how a majority government would treat Quebec’s interests, but Martin says his performance was “calm and surprisingly laidback,” and that he often “seemed bemused by the group gang-up” instead of annoyed. (His bemusedness seemed somewhat forced to us, but was no doubt a good strategy). As for Dion, Martin suggests he stop raising his hand—We disagree! Take the high road!—and “dive into the debate” tonight.

We agree with the Ottawa Citizen‘s Randall Denley that Dion gave a very good accounting for himself last night, particularly on the environment and on the tone of federal politics, but we begin to question our own judgment when Denley suggests Duceppe “was only adequate.” We’d trade whatever it is we have right now atop the two main parties for that brand of mere “adequacy” in a heartbeat. Denley does, however, offer the pithiest explanation of Harper’s difficulty in defending his more controversial policies: they simply “are not terribly defensible.”

If the economy is top of Canadians’ minds right now, as we are assured is the case, then the Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert is forced to call the debate for Harper, since none of the four opposition members had much to offer on the world economic crisis other than that the Conservative way is the wrong way. Harper also benefited from the new format, she adds, in which the leaders come across as “more human than they usually do in the heat of campaign action”—particularly in Quebec, where Harper skeptics generally view the Prime Minister (or so we are told) as an evil robot.

But if the rather amazing number of people the Star‘s Thomas Walkom spoke to in Welland, Ont., are any indication, perhaps this election isn’t all about the economy. In the midst of what is ostensibly Ontario’s rust belt, Walkom says he found (a) little rust and (b) voters planning to cast their ballots, or not, according to the same hodge-podge of good reasons and silly ones that they always have. “Most of those interviewed said the slowdown hasn’t affected them personally,” he reports. “Even those directly hurt by the slowdown, while bitter, seemed resigned.”

“Perhaps there is a more fruitless way to expend $150 million” than on tax breaks for piano lessons,” Randall Denley muses in the Citizen, “but it’s difficult to imagine what it would be.” Indeed, he continues, needing just four or five points to move the Conservatives into majority territory, “the man history might well dub The Great Tinkerer [has] dribbled away weeks of public and media attention with little parental benefits for the self-employed, tiny tax cuts for the elderly, small breaks for new homebuyers and a crackdown on candy-flavoured tobacco products” even as he risked support in Quebec with ill-conceived cuts to arts funding and draconian youth justice proposals. Denley suspects it’s Harper’s failure, and not Dion’s, we’ll be discussing on October 15. (Of course, Harper will be Prime Minister, which is a pretty good comeback.)

The Star‘s inimitable Bob Hepburn blames the Liberals’ woes largely on Paul Martin. Paul Martin the dithering, disastrous Prime Minister, you ask? No, silly—Paul Martin the universally respected 1990s finance minister and “leader of the socially conservative wing of the party,” for “slashing federal social programs” and generally ruining the Liberals’ “left-wing legacy.” Dion must attempt to recapture that spirit in tonight’s English debate, Hepburn opines, by stressing progressive Liberal accomplishments and beliefs, such as, er, “decriminalizing marijuana.” We, on the other hand, would suggest Dion not bring up noted Liberal failures, but what the hell do we know?

James Travers‘ unique prose is in rare form these days, perhaps invigorated by the “twisted circumstances” of Nova Scotian politics, which are “torquing routine contests into funhouse reflections of the national campaign.” (One of these days we’re going to write an entire Megapundit in Travers’ voice. You’ll know it when it happens.) The ridings of Halifax, where $142,700 in government funding to a women’s organization headed by a Tory candidate who later resigned after her criminal record was revealed; Central Nova, where MacKay is fighting a bizarre battle against Elizabeth May; and Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, where Tory outcast Bill Casey continues to fight off all comers, represent three of the most interesting elements of the election, says Travers.

She did it her way
“There is no mistaking [Julie Couillard’s] fury,” the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford reports form Montreal, where Maxime Bernier’s buxom ex was giving interviews about her briefly-awaited memoirs. But she’s damned if she can figure out just what, if anything, it is Couillard has done with her professional life. “She persists in seeing herself as a ‘strong and career-oriented woman who doesn’t need a man to own a house and a nice car,'” Blatchford notes. But “when I pointed out that by her own words in My Story, she’s barely been alone for 10 minutes, she smiled and said, ‘Yeah, but I haven’t lived with anybody.’ ” When Blatchford points out that she has, in fact, lived with somebody—a dude by the name of Bruno—Couillard explains that was “not even a year.”

It’s left to the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin to assess the potential political fallout from Couillard’s book: which is little to none. “Mr. Harper’s image will hardly suffer a scratch,” he predicts, unless the revelation that Bernier referred to him as “chubby” counts. The RCMP may yet impact Tory fortunes on the matter of Couillard’s lobbying efforts for a real estate deal and a patronage appointment for her mother, Martin predicts, but “the Mounties won’t be reporting before election day.”

The Gazette‘s Don MacPherson thinks some hardline federalists might be off-put by Couillard’s contention that Bernier simultaneously “saw himself as a worthy successor to Stephen Harper” and “looked forward to Quebec independence.” But Bernier is no Lucien Bouchard, he reassures us—Show of hands? Motion carried—and Harper is no Brian Mulroney. The former lacks the intelligence, and the latter the bravery and inclination, to take us again down the road to constitutional mayhem.

Oh, right. That other election.
There are two explanations for recent polls showing Barack Obama widening his lead in the traditional Midwestern battleground states, John Ibbitson suggests in the Globe: one is, the polls are wrong; the other is that American voters, who “have long trusted Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain to manage” the economy, are being spooked en masse into the Democratic camp.

After Sarah Palin’s “excruciating” interview with Katie Couric and various other underwhelming performances, the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington is now poised to jump, tuck and roll off the bandwagon. But he’ll hear her out through tonight’s debate with Joe Biden. “If she doesn’t know a topic,” he advises, “then retreat into her philosophy for an answer”—we can’t wait to see this—”and preface whatever she says with the caveat that this is her own view, and may change as time and knowledge progress.”

Duly noted
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham updates us on the various legal remedies Canada’s female ski jumpers are pursuing to be able to compete at the 2010 Olympics. We’re trying to care. We really are.

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