Welcome aboard, Elizabeth
Next project: Get Gilles Duceppe out of the English debate!
There were “good reasons” not to include Elizabeth May in the leaders’ debates, Don MacPherson argues in the Montreal Gazette, notably that the line has to be drawn somewhere if any of the leaders are going to have time to say anything, and “drawing it in front of a party that has never elected a member of Parliament seemed like a good place.” But “her exclusion would remain indefensible as long as the leader of the Bloc Québécois is allowed to participate in the English debate as well as the French one,” he argues (to the consternation, no doubt, of the Bloc’s six anglophone supporters). And from a purely political standpoint, MacPherson believes Dion’s support for May represents a strategic masterstroke—both in general, because it strengthens his “environmental credentials,” and because supporting her inclusion in the debate made him look like a champion of democracy.
Or, if you want to look at it from Don Martin‘s perspective, Dion “meekly refused to boycott” the debates if May wasn’t included, which reduced “what could’ve been a triumph of political brinkmanship over [Stephen Harper’s] bully antics,” and a heroic moment for women and free-speech advocates, into a mere “flip-flop” on Harper’s part. Other Wednesday screw-ups for Dion include swooping in—Caw! Caw!—on a bunch of Walkerton, Ont. high-school students and using them as props to talk about food safety. “A teacher pulled me aside after Dion’s talk,” Martin relates in the Calgary Herald, “to confide that Walkerton students are sick of being poster kids for poison products.” Can’t blame them a bit.
“He visits a school to talk about tainted meat and hiring more inspectors,” Sun Media’s Greg Weston quips. “Maybe in the coming weeks, he’ll visit a meat packing plant to talk about education.” It’s a particularly odd miscue, Weston argues, given that Dion this week had already mentioned doubling the $1,200 childcare supplement, and raising the guaranteed income supplement for seniors, without a child, or old person, respectively, in sight.
Harper and Layton “swallowing whole” their objections to Elizabeth May’s participation in the leaders’ debate “was the single most delicious moment of the campaign thus far,” says The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson, who particularly enjoys the idea of “a woman crashing the boys’ club.” From there it gets a bit confusing, as he surveys the current status of women in Canadian politics, observes that female candidates seem to have little effect on female voters, and suggests that people are going to vote for May’s policy positions, not her gender. We’re not entirely sure what his overall point, if any, was.
The Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom sees May’s inclusion as a “wildcard” factor in the overall campaign. Conventional wisdom holds that the NDP have the most to lose, but since, “unlike their European cousins, Canada’s Greens are not consistently left-of-centre,” Walkom believes the Liberals and Tories both have plenty of votes to bleed as well. And while most Canadians don’t watch the debates, he says televised highlights can have a hugely positive effect on relatively unknown leaders. “If she does half the job she did on Sunday in her televised response to Harper’s election call,” he concludes, Canadians “may well be impressed.”
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe rather preciously declares Harper’s opposition to May’s inclusion “a clear conflict of interest,” since “he well knows that May is a strong speaker on a policy area where his party is weakest—the environment.” As silly as that argument is—notaleader.ca is a conflict of interest, we might argue, because Dion wants to take Harper’s job!—Yaffe’s quite right that “it’s past time to establish clear and immutable guidelines for participation.” We’re a little sceptical, however, that a party leader who fell just short of those guidelines would meekly accept them.
A complete disaster, is Randall Denley‘s take on Harper’s campaign thus far in the Ottawa Citizen. Opposing May’s participation in the debates made him look cowardly and insulted women; his more environmentally-conscious airplane doesn’t explain why he or any of the other leaders need to gallivant across the country in jets at all; saying he’d rather be a fruit than a vegetable was “stupid”; and his plan to cut the excise tax on diesel is both useless and an environmental hate crime. Through all this, says Denley, Dion “has cruised quietly along.”
A complete triumph, is James Travers‘ take on Harper’s campaign thus far in the Star. He imagines the Prime Minister reclining in a sealskin chair, tenting his fingers and cackling mightily (okay, not really), sure in the knowledge that Dion is making a classic political error in relying on his Green Shift. Travers likens it to Robert Stanfield’s 1974 campaign for wage and price controls, which Pierre Trudeau “savaged … before implementing his version,” and John Tory’s idea of funding religious schools. Essentially, each represents an unknown quantity imploring Canadians to “jump off a cliff” on their word that it isn’t very high.
The Globe‘s Margaret Wente acknowledges the silliness of rebranding two party leaders with the “pasty look of boys who had to be thrown out of the house to get some fresh air” as rugged-yet-cuddly outdoorsmen, and the idea that a whimsically defecating puffin could constitute “a depraved personal attack”—the silliness of Canadian elections, in other words. But, like Richard Gwyn before her, she suggests this is an indication of our relatively united, prosperous and peaceable nation. “In Canada, the most popular woman in politics is Elizabeth May,” she suggests, who’s easy to “root for … because she has no power. In the U.S., the most popular woman is a charismatic pit bull who thinks the war in Iraq is guided by the hand of God.” We, on the other hand, think our relative societal harmony makes it all the more embarrassing for politicians to strive for hyperbole at all costs.
Twenty, 40 and 50 years ago, we enjoyed some of “the greatest campaigns of the century,” Lawrence Martin argues in the Globe. Two “messiahs” presented themselves in 1958 and 1968 in the human forms of John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau—yeah, that’s right, messiahs; “leaders who personify the nation’s will”—and Canada swooned as one in realization of its own greatness and potential. The 1988 campaign, meanwhile, “came as a surprise … donnybrook over the [free] trade issue,” with Brian Mulroney “looking far down the road,” willing to take “big chances” to effect “big changes.” This year’s, Martin laments, promises to be just as “parochial” as 2006’s.
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui provides his latest gloom-and-doom assessment of Canada’s and NATO’s mission in Afghanistan—which we’re not saying is wrong, by the way, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before—and insists the four opposition leaders “should be making an election issue out of how to salvage” it. “Just waiting it out until 2011, as Stephen Harper implies, is irresponsible.” He neglects to mention, so we will, that Dion is in no position to be shooting from the hip on this issue.
The National Post‘s John Ivison reports on the Tories’ ongoing efforts to woo various Canadian ethnic communities, which would help establish the party as “the dominant political force in Canada” just as much as their breakthrough in Quebec did. Their progress on that front is difficult to measure, Ivison notes, but he believes Jason Kenney “is in danger of turning into a rubber chicken if he attends many more dinners at ethnocultural events.”