First impressions

Greg Fingas finds in Nathan Cullen’s favour.

I’ve been careful to avoid docking candidates too many points for having some room to improve in a second language. But in order to win the benefit of the doubt, a candidate does need to sound compelling in his or her more familiar language. And on that point, Paul Dewar suffered in comparison to Nathan Cullen – who seemed more comfortable than any contender other than Mulcair, sounding more confident even in his entirely improvised lines than Dewar did in presenting his own policies. That made Cullen the candidate who gained the most from yesterday’s debate – even if it’s an open question whether any amount of personal appeal can overcome his strategic choice to make cooperation with the Liberals the centrepiece of his campaign. But Cullen’s ease in front of an audience may end up serving as the dividing line between the NDP’s serious contenders and its also-rans – and yesterday, Dewar fell short of the standard. 

Progressive Proselytizing sees a top three.

All three of the top tier candidates of Thomas Mulcair, Brian Topp and Peggy Nash came off very well. They spoke well, they spoke passionately, and I think managed to accomplish what they needed to do: establish their legitimacy as top tier candidates in the debate setting. Peggy Nash was probably the best speaker on the stage and much of what she said was tied in to core NDP values … Topp was probably the worst of the three in terms of debate performance coming off as somewhat hesitant; perhaps this is just due to experience given that he has never run for political office before. 

Vicky Smallman questions Brian Topp’s attempt to confront Paul Dewar.

I enjoyed the tone of the debate. Respectful, and generally positive. There was that early moment when Brian Topp went after Paul Dewar. I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish there. If it was to throw Paul off, it seemed to have the opposite effect, breaking the tension and allowing Paul to relax a little. I suppose there are folks out there who found the debate a little underwhelming. No “knockout punch”, no fireworks. But that’s not how we roll, is it? The candidates need to woo the membership. There is little to be gained from being overly aggressive, especially at this early stage. Attacking Paul was a risky move by Brian; I’m not sure what he stands to gain, especially when he needs to show people that he can transition from the backrooms to the doorstep. 

John Baglow liked Mr. Dewar.

If a little stiff (he’s normally more relaxed and happy, and I think we’ll see the return of that in the ensuing debates), Dewar still came across as personable and warm. He has an approach and a vision supplemented by solid knowledge and experience. And his French, which it must be said was less polished than that of several other candidates, has progressed astonishingly well over the past few weeks. He had promised when he threw his hat in the ring that he would be fluent in the language as party leader, and I for one believe he’ll keep his word.

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