In disagreement with my fellow blog author Teddy (ridingBYriding), who did a good job covering the debates tonight, I feel that tonight's debate was all about one thing - how all three leaders came off about the same.
Let's start with the obvious: Tim Hudak. Hudak came off as an intelligent leader, the guy who is in most opposition to McGuinty, and, really, like a seasoned opposition politician. And that's the best word to sum up Hudak - "opposition." He is more or less diametrically opposed to McGuinty, or at least that's how he tried to come off. And while he did present some of his plans and schemes for Ontario, no one can really say that he spent most of his night explaining why he should be the next Premier on his own merits - just why McGuinty shouldn't. I was also a bit curious at the three mentions of his daughter, Miller, when before he went after McGuinty for bringing family into political matters.
Overall, however, Hudak did well, and he should be commended as such. It's not easy being a rookie leader up against a seasoned debater like McGuinty. He came off as smooth, collected, and calm - except for the part when McGuinty brought up the whole use of the word "foreigners" - and that's what he needed to do. Maybe he could have come off as less of the reflexive choice for Ontarians looking for change, but he didn't disappoint, either.
Andrea Horwath herself had an excellent night, but all I can think of was Jack, and how much it seemed she was attempting to emulate him. I have it on authority that Horwath is just like that - maybe so, but again, Jack. Maybe that's the vote getter she needed.
What she did not do, however, was convince me as well as Jack did that the NDP were ready for governance or opposition status again. She made great points and positioned herself as the "change" candidate in the sense of positive change, rather than the reflexive change Hudak embodied. But any and all NDP leaders do this, and I didn't get from her the feeling that she was more than anything but a regular old NDP leader.
But she did her job, and she did it well. One thing, however, that annoyed me, was her constant interruptions. I thought that was juvenile, unneeded, and was Horwath's biggest issue tonight. As someone who is seen as the most inexperienced candidate, the constant interruptions, head shakes, and general reactions were not conducive to thoughts of steady leadership.
Another obvious ploy with Andrea was her use of her gender. Everyone knows right away of what I'm talking about: on the first question, when she responded with, "in the YWCA changeroom I met two women," so on. And if you listen closely enough, you can find references like those sprinkled throughout her responses. Good ploy, bad ploy? I don't know, but it was pretty obvious.
Dalton McGuinty, frankly, came in below expectations, but only just. I didn't feel as much argument as I expected from him against the attacks of Horwath and Hudak, but maybe that's because I'm just a reactive guy. He was steady, he explained his points, and he defended his record.
This, more or less, was a Harper job. He emulated the calm incumbent who has to defend against these vicious attacks from the Opposition leaders. And, like Harper, it was talking point after talking point. Maybe that's the thing that irked me most about his performance, but it worked for Harper, so why not here?
But, I don't think he "dropped the ball," nor do I think he did terribly worse than the other two, given the circumstances. There were a couple of blows landed on him, but in general, he remained poised and took it in stride. He projected an air of leadership and experience, both qualities he has oodles of over the other two.
Will it change how Ontarians vote? Well, I don't think so - but I thought that about the 2011 debate as well. Maybe I missed something, but I didn't get the hint that anyone came off fantastic, or greater, than the other.
If I were to make a prediction on who will benefit though, I would say that's Horwath. It's her first exposure to the greater public, and it went off pretty well.