4:21pm. Closing statements. Mr. Cullen goes for poetry, Ms. Nash is insistent, Mr. Dewar is emotional, Mr. Topp is aspirational, Mr. Mulcair is workmanlike. New Democrats have an incredibly difficult choice to make.
4:12pm. Mr. Cullen says Mr. Harper fears that the progressive majority will get its act together and defeat him. Interesting argument. I actually think Mr. Harper would prefer a two-party system. (P.S. Of course, that’s not exactly what Mr. Cullen is proposing.)
4:09pm. Mr. Cullen challenges Mr. Topp on making a distinction between pre- and post-election cooperation. Mr. Topp: “I’m adverse to strategies that won’t work.”
4:04pm. Mr. Dewar didn’t have an answer for Ms. Nash and he probably should have. Or at least I’d be interested to hear his response.
4:02pm. Have two opposition parties ever run a joint ad campaign against the governing party? Is there an example of this in England or any similar system?
3:58pm. The second pick-a-fight round. Paul Dewar notes that Peggy Nash is interested in “pooling” resources with other parties before an election. And yet, she opposes Nathan Cullen’s plan. Mr. Dewar seems to see a contradiction. Ms. Nash says she’s in favour of pooling resources with other parties if other parties want to campaign for proportional representation. But then she asks Mr. Dewar if he’d turn away the Liberals if they came to him and offered to pool resources towards an ad campaign against the Conservative crime bill. This is an interesting development.
3:56pm. On body language: Almost everything Thomas Mulcair talks about is situated just off to his right.
3:52pm. See, there’s actually a very interesting debate to be had about what the NDP is, where it is and what it needs to do towards 2015.
3:43pm. (The candidates are discussing immigration and economic policy, but I’d rather dwell upon the larger debate here). Mr. Mulcair has regularly referred to the party’s lack of a seat in Saskatchewan. It’s a glaring weakness, but is it an indication the party has been doing something wrong? In Mr. Layton’s four elections, the party’s popular vote in Saskatchewan went from 23.4% to 24% to 25.6% to 32.3%. The NDP had nearly four times the popular vote of the Liberals in Saskatchewan, but the Liberals have one seat and the NDP has zero. The NDP’s popular vote in the province in 2011 was six points higher than it was in the 2000 election, when the party won two seats. If the problem is that the party isn’t winning seats in Saskatchewan, isn’t the solution electoral reform? (Or at least redrawing the riding boundaries?)
3:36pm. So Mr. Mulcair’s position seems to that the party needs to do in every other province what it did in Quebec. What this means depends mightily, I suppose, on what you think happened in Quebec. If you think Jack Layton’s personal appeal is largely to credit for the NDP’s success in Quebec, it’s unclear what the NDP can do now to recreate that result elsewhere. Mr. Mulcair’s argument seems to be that the party’s gains can be explained by the party’s decision (as he demanded) to stop using the phrase “ordinary Canadians.”
3:34pm. Hmm. Nathan Cullen asks Martin Singh if Mr. Singh would like to apologize to Mr. Topp for his comments at previous debates. That’s… interesting.
3:32pm. Paul Dewar to Mr. Mulcair: It seems like you’re a little down on the party. How can you inspire people to vote for the party when you don’t seem inspired by the party? Mr. Mulcair again says the party has to continue on the path set by Mr. Layton, but it needs to do something different to win in Saskatchewan.
3:28pm. Niki Ashton to Mr. Mulcair: You haven’t been entirely clear on how you want to change the party. Is it about changing the rhetoric or changing the direction? Mr. Mulcair repeats that it’s about continuing to move forward and not go backward. And yet, he then says the party needs to do something different to win more seats in Western Canada. “Refresh our language” seems the closest he comes to saying what needs to happen.
3:23pm. Brian Topp challenges Mr. Mulcair on taxes and reengages this idea that Thomas Mulcair thinks “the party is the problem” (Mr. Topp’s words). Mr. Mulcair’s basic response it that it’s too early to promise the sorts of tax reforms that Mr. Topp is pursuing, that the next NDP leader would be better off waiting a few years and seeing what the books look like then.
3:20pm. Our first pick-a-fight round. Peggy Nash goes after Thomas Mulcair: What exactly is his vision of renewal? Mr. Mulcair says the party must reach out beyond its traditional base and continue moving forward. Ms. Nash presses him for specific changes he would make. Mr. Mulcair says he’d keep moving forward as the party did under Jack Layton.
3:13pm. How would the candidates engage young people? The correct answer seems obvious: promise to capture Kony.
3:11pm. Paul Dewar’s campaign slogan should be “Endearing.”
3:03pm. Niki Ashton: “We must not and cannot sacrifice our values.” Thomas Mulcair: “Reach out beyond our traditional base.” Nathan Cullen: “Unite progressives.” Brian Topp: “A real NDP government.” There’s the grand philosophical debate that everyone is dancing around. How does this party move forward? It depends to a certain extent, I think, on how you view Jack Layton’s legacy. Was he a pragmatist who leaned left or a leftist who preferred pragmatism?
3:01pm. And we’re off. Seven candidates. Two giant Canadian flags.
2:55pm. For the purposes of a pre-game show, consider this fascinating interview with Thomas Mulcair. Fascinating point #1: He rules out a coalition of any kind with the Liberals. Fascinating point #2: He says we should be intervening militarily in Syria.