Notes on the Maclean’s National Leaders Debate

Opinion/Analysis: Olivier Jarvis Lavoie

[11:40 PM EST on August 6, 2015]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper generally held his own. Anyone at all disposed to buy what he sells probably came away satisfied with his performance, which was the goal. Nobody landed a decisive “knock-out” blow against him, whether on the economy, the environment, or anything else (e.g. C-51, Senate, etc.), although this wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of his opponents. Harper had one good moment, at least, when he spoke about national unity.

Bonus point: maintained human form the whole evening.

Justin Trudeau started out speaking in lofty (and repetitious) generalities, but seemed to truly find his passion when speaking about the disenfranchisement of voters under the so-called Fair Elections Act and about national unity and the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration. He intervened often and did not allow the whole debate to take on the appearance of a two-way discussion between Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair. On the surface, he acquitted himself well on the issue of his support for Harper’s police bill, C-51. One hiccup at the end, when he forgot to say his final sentence.

Bonus point: wore pants.

Tom Mulcair underperformed at the very beginning, frozen in an awkward posture probably meant to convey, both at the same time, strength and a “friendly” demeanor, but he eventually seemed to find his groove as the calm, elder statesman implacably opposed to Harper. He spoke convincingly and well on C-51. Nothing “radical” or “scary” about his performance, despite Harper’s insistence that his policies would be “a disaster.” He was smug when asking Trudeau “what his number” would be, in order to break up Canada, and lost the round to Harper and, to a lesser extent, Trudeau, in my view. One hiccup at the end, when he lost his place in his closing statement.

Bonus point: kept all the foam in his mouth.

Elizabeth May: By far the best performer, in terms of demonstrating a mastery of the issues, including detailed knowledge of historical context and familiarity with hard data relevant to every item under discussion. She undermined Harper repeatedly, as well as Mulcair, directly, on pipelines and Trudeau, by proxy, on C-51. She brought up several important points and proved the worthiness of having her there at the debate: an enriched discussion of important issues that would otherwise be ignored or overlooked. No embarrassing slip-ups. Her solid performance probably won’t be enough, however, to prevent soft Green supporters from casting their ballots for Liberals or New Democrats in order to defeat the Conservatives in most parts of the country.

Bonus point: didn’t show up drunk and swear at everyone.

See also: “Maclean’s National Leaders Debate