All Leaders Claim Victory in English Language Debates

OTTAWA, August 12 — Political pundits called it an even fight, but that didn’t stop all party leaders and media representatives from claiming victory in last night’s English-language debates.

“I believe Stephen Harper articulated a compelling vision of Canada, distinct from the tired, old rhetoric of the other party leaders,” said Conservative media representative Steve Naylor. “He faced the attacks by the other party leaders and showed a statesmanlike bearing as he took them down one by one.”

Liberal representatives, of course, disagreed. “Stephane Dion came into tonight’s debates as an underdog, facing an incumbent prime minister and misconceptions about the quality of his English,” said Liberal media representative Jason Chern. “He defeated both, showing to all Canadians the sort of intelligence that is vital to have in the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The role of Canada’s military took centre stage in the 2008 debates, with discussions on Afghanistan mixing in with questions of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. Stephane Dion talked about what he saw as the need to resolve Canada’s commitment to Afghanistan in order to redeploy resources along the Northwest Passage. Harper replied that maintaining Canada’s international commitments were vital to maintain a profile that would assist in protecting the sovereignty of Canada’s North. He also touted his government’s investment in new equipment for Canada’s military and derided the Liberal record on military spending. Jack Layton got into the debate talking about support for veteran pensions and protection of their jobs, while Gilles Duceppe questioned the worthiness of the Afghan mission altogether.

A lot of time was spent on environmental issues as well, with the three opposition leaders all attacking the government’s inaction toward meeting Canada’s commitments under the Kyoto Accord. Harper responded by citing the passage of the Clean Air Act and other government policies. The moderator, news anchor Steve Neuman, had to intervene several times to stop the leaders from talking over themselves.

But it was the issue of decorum in parliament that brought out the strongest words from all party leaders. The opposition leaders attacked Stephen Harper for ignoring opposition resolutions, filibustering Commons’ committees and showing contempt for the majority of voters who elected them to office. Harper fired back, accusing the three other leaders of wanting all the power of government, but none of the responsibility. It was these exchanges, experts agree, where Dion and Harper came the closest to losing their cool.

“This just shows Canadians yet another example of the sort of heated inaction they’ve seen from the top two parties,” said NDP leader Jack Layton to reporters outside the conference hall. “They must have had a frustrating time trying to listen in, and I’m sure they could not help but think that here are two people more interested in shouting each other down than they are in serving Canadians.”

Experts interviewed after the debates agreed that there were no gaffes, no knockout punches that marked previous debates, including the ones between John Turner and Brian Mulroney before the 1984 and 1988 elections. “Everybody held their own. Nobody flubbed their lines. The only difference between the 2006 debates is that Harper sounded less controlled and more human, and Stephane Dion sounded passionate, but quite academic,” said pollster Allen Reid.

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This page contains a single entry by James Bow published on August 12, 2008 3:58 PM.

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