French language debate: Tie goes to Layton

Language aside, there were several carry-overs from the English debate last night: the perpetual look of owlish incredulity on the part of Michael Ignatieff, who unfortunately kept getting cut off; the one-off zingers of Gilles Duceppe (‘Yes, Quebec stands up at the UN. It doesn’t have a seat!’) that demonstrate how much less this man has to lose than anyone else; the unblinking stare of Stephen Harper, sticking to his talking points and nakedly appealing to ‘les régions’, spitting out ‘Toronto and Montreal’ like they were curse words (good luck with that Montreal seat, Larry Smith).

If there was one free radical, it was Jack Layton. Giving his creeping advantage in the polls, Layton’s battle was with Duceppe, from whom the NDP leader would like to take a chunk of the soft nationalist vote. He shut Duceppe’s narrative of an Ottawa-centric NDP government down, he withstood the sticky questions about Bill 101 by reminding Duceppe that language policy is a provincial jurisdiction, and was the only one of the three federalist leaders to have the courage (or folly, depending on who you ask) to say his government would move to have Quebec sign the constitution. His French was about 10 times better than in 2008, and he had the last word. It was a slog, and he didn’t win by much. But he won.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.