My impressions of tonight's English language debate are similar to what I feel much of this election has been in the eyes of most Canadians: unnecessary.
The fact is, tonight, I don't feel any of the party leaders made much of a case beyond what their own supporters expected them to make. This debate was essentially a fight to meet expectations, and while you saw some interesting divergences on issues like the spending priorities, justice issues, and our image abroad, you didn't see anything substantial come out of it. None of the party leaders impressed beyond what their own parties expected; they all had their hits, their drawbacks, and their plain stupidity.
Harper was definitely the "winner," by virtue of his ability to remain composed during the entire debate. However, he was almost inanimate, and made no case beyond the idea that as an incumbent party, they've done this and that and you should vote for us to continue this. Maybe that's an effective argument, I don't really know; I'm pretty sure, however, that instead of advancing the argument why he should have a majority, he instead made the case for simply a Conservative government - beyond that, he let the other leaders define why he shouldn't have a majority. After all, if Harper got all of this done as a minority, why risk a majority?
Ignatieff won in a way that only he could - by not totally crashing and burning. He managed to keep a relatively composed stance, while attacking Harper on key issues, drawing attention away from Jack Layton, despite the hits he took from him, and remained relevant in the debate. Liberals should be pleased with his performance, because he didn't disappoint. Issue, however, is that he didn't excite either; he managed to keep himself afloat, but never pulled himself out of the water. He also didn't define why he should be Prime Minister, just why he should be an excellent Opposition Leader to hold Harper to account. That's not the end result we wanted, though I think its all that we expected - and I'm personally happy with that.
Layton was described as looking like a "wild-eyed socialist" by my grandfather; I can't help but think he may be right. It isn't that Layton did anything crazy or bad, in fact he was effective in several attacks he made against both Iggy and Harper. But he never articulated why he would be better in the OLO than as the fourth party leader. In fact, he seemed more liked a novelty than reality; but it will play well with NDP voters, probably clawing back enough support to keep the Dippers afloat. This being said, however, I don't expect to see Layton riding above the Libs anytime soon. Also, I expect to see support in Quebec drop, at least among federalists, thanks to the corner he was backed into by Duceppe on expanding Bill 101.
My prediction on the effect of the outcome? Basically nada:
Conservatives - 140-160
Liberals - 70-90
Bloc Quebecois - 40-50
NDP - 25-35