Monday, December 5, 2011

And the winner of the first NDP debate is....

The Conservatives, because of the massive wealth of soundbites gained from the debate which will paint the new NDP leader as wanting to raise taxes, put through a carbon tax, destroy Canada's resource extraction sector, and cripple free trade.

What's worse is that pretty much every candidate said those exact things, including the frontrunner troika of Topp, Mulcair, and Nash. Yes, right now the Conservatives are probably plotting away to destroy the next Dipper leader the same way they destroyed Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. But of course, that was expected, wasn't it?

If you actually missed the debate, don't worry - I'll recap all the important parts below for each of the nine candidates, or you can just watch it online too (eventually). Don't expect policy points - I tuned out during that - but this debate was never about distinguishing the viable candidates on ideas (remember: the candidates with no hope are the candidates with the best ideas), but instead it was how they came across. Do they look capable of going up against Stephen Harper in a contest of personalities that even Jack Layton only had fleeting success at? Those were the questions asked last night.

It's a long post, so bear with me, but here's my opinion on what happened last night:

Thomas Mulcair: If you really need to know who "won" the overall debate, it would be Tom Mulcair for sure. The Outremont MP was the only one who gave his opening statements in both French and English and demonstrated the most consistency in both languages. Throughout the debate he was calm (notable given his reputation), fairly poised, and hammered home quite a few policy points the way an experienced politician knows how to. He also didn't say anything controversial in terms of policy or attitudes. His general direction was to keep the debate (on the economy, just fyi) focused on how an NDP leader could take on Harper tête-à-tête, as opposed to the policy wonks beside him. It seems fairly effective but he still rubbed against the other candidates a bit on policy points and despite his overuse of the words "social democratic," came off as the less left-of-centre candidate as compared to others. Not sure how that will play over.
Conservative attack tagline: Tom Mulcair, he's really a Liberal.

Brian Topp: Topp, the presumed "frontrunner" in the race based on the number of big endorsements he's had so far, had a pretty mixed night in my opinion. There's numerous issues to point out: he's not as well refined of a debater as some of the others (especially compared to Mulcair); he couldn't translate his tax plan well into the debate or for viewers; his body language gave off weird signals (some say he looked arrogant, I think he seemed like a bureaucrat); and because of the format and the number of candidates, he was really drowned out. Had Topp been more impressive of a debater he might've stood out but really he seemed part of the woodwork. Not a good night for him, but it's the first debate so its not a huge issue. His policy points seemed standard centre-left, though other candidates questioned him anyways. He was good in both French and English so no problem there. Overall it was an OK performance but I don't think it will gain him more support than he already has.
Conservative attack tagline: The NDP wants to raise your taxes to the Topp.

Peggy Nash: Now we're into someone who definitely gained from last night. Personally, as leader she would never get my vote, but centre-left ideologues would love her. She hit all major points that matter in a debate on the economy: trade, green economy, jobs, and even unions. She really could be the Iron Lady of the left, not kidding. She came across as genuine, likable, very noticeable, but maybe a bit haughty (is that the right word?). Definitely distinguishable as a candidate but such an easy target too. If you had to frame the race as a choice between Nash and Mulcair, ideological lines within the NDP would become very apparent. I'm unsure of Nash is the candidate that's the "either you love her or you hate her" type yet, but it wouldn't surprise me. However the exposure she gained from last night and her command of policy points can only help right now. I think her French was a bit off but not too bad. She'll make the race interesting, and I could see her winning it.
Conservative attack tagline: Nash smash!

Paul Dewar: Rounding out the higher bracket is Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar. Now, Dewar had major issues with the French debate but Eric Grenier pointed out it's as good as Harper's was a few years ago. He has a while to improve though. Outside of that glaring issue, Dewar performed fairly strongly. He went after Topp quite a bit on some issues and seemed credible with his own policy points, especially on the issue of jobs. His debating style was good - another experienced politician - and his ideology seems pretty standard NDP. However, maybe that's the problem, as Dewar seemed too cookie-cutter to me. The man is clearly competent, but is that enough to beat Harper? Jack had something special, and the NDP need to find someone that can put them over the top in 2015. That, to me, requires more than just competence. Dewar needs to find the "wow" factor or he's not going to make the troika into a quartet.
Conservative attack tagline: Paul Dewar: Il ne peut pas vraiment parler français.

Nathan Cullen: Getting into the small fry now, Cullen had an interesting night. He definitely came off well and like Nash, the exposure will only help him as the race continues on. However, he's an ideas man and he seems almost... meek, if you get what I mean. Watch the debate and you'll understand what I mean. His general appearance reminds me of your local accountant. Does he really look like he can go up against Stephen Harper? My impression - based off looks, debating style, and general impression - is no, but that's just me. He did however get a good amount of policy points in and his debate with Romeo Saganash in northern/rural issues was interesting as heck. Didn't hear a whole lot about the co-operation idea but maybe I tuned it out at some point. Unlike Dewar he was good in French too. I could see him outpacing Dewar, actually. Well, as much as you can outpace fourth place.
Conservative attack tagline: He'll Do Your Taxes... Horribly!

Niki Ashton: The Churchill MP who is the youngest candidate by far at 29 seemed so full of energy I half expected some sort of nuclear event, given the level of excitement nearby molecules must've felt (physics ftw). Very charismatic, very interesting to listen to on policy points, and I'll be blunt, she looked, in a physical sense, the best out of all nine of them up there. However, she had hilariously pie-in-the-sky ideas which she failed to really expand upon, which disappointed me a lot. I also don't know how her age would play out among a voting base that is frankly a lot older - and no, her youth isn't going to bring out 18-25 voters. Why people believe that is beyond me. Anyways, she gets kudos points for lots of charisma. That will play well for her. Good in French, good in English.
Conservative attack tagline: Do you really want a hipster Prime Minister?

Martin Singh: The Nova Scotia businessman really surprised me last night. He was reasonable, he was credible, and he was consistent in tone across both English and French. He seemed like a leader that, based on policy and attitude, the majority of Canada would feel comfortable with. He hit major points on how he's an entrepreneur and that he understands the business community and the economy (major points), and made some headway against Topp and other candidates on issues like taxes and jobs, as well as an interesting three-way debate on the urban-rural divide with him, Nash, and Ashton where he really stood out in my opinion. Exposure in this race can only help him but he has a very, very large hill to climb with no elected experience and little name recognition. He was also very, very technical in his policy
Conservative attack tagline: Who?

Romeo Saganash: Poor Romeo Saganash had a horrible start last night as he wasn't very good in English. He seemed tense, hesitant, and over-scripted. In the French portion of the debate he was a lot better, but still not that impressive. Interesting man, but not the charismatic wunderkid he was built up to be by some. I don't see him going very far, though he could definitely take away votes in Quebec from Mulcair and other candidates. Can't say much else unfortunately. Can't even think of an attack line.

Robert Chisholm: Poor Robert Chisholm was the biggest disappointment last night. Like Mulcair, he went after the leadership angle and played up his experience as a former NDP leader provincially. Had excellent ideas, came off OK in terms of presentation style - not great, but OK - and like Dewar he seemed credible and competent. I would like to have seen him talk more. However, in the French portion of the debate he didn't even bother trying to speak French, and answered all questions from the moderators or other candidates in English the entire time. That's just a disappointment and it probably disqualifies him from going much farther. At least Dewar tried.
Conservative attack tagline: At least Dewar tried.

Phew, there we are. Hopefully that wasn't too much.

Feel free to comment or say your own tidbits, I'm interested in others opinions about the debate. Who won, who lost, who impressed, and who depressed?


  1. The thing is that the Harpercons would find a way to attack any political opponent. If she or he held the exact same beliefs as Harper himself the Conservatives would attack the person with some line about fiscal irresponsibility and centralizing fascism.

    Opponents of Harper, whether Liberal or NDP must forge ahead with what is right, not what is the least attackable.

    As for winners, I think this was just the proverbial wetting of the feet - we need a bit more time to see who will really shine.

  2. See, kirby, I agree in principle about the "forging ahead with what is right" - except we can't actually do that unless we win, which is why we need something that is the least attackable. It's a quagmire.

  3. I see the problem the other way around Volkov, I think the perversion and ugliness of the Conservatives will lead them into self-destruction. I think history is on our side in this regard. Ugly, centralizing, evil egoists like Harper are always lead to self-destruction through their inflated sense of self-importance and a belief in their indestructibility. Furthermore, we have to believe that, though they will attack opposition leader offered to them, a relentless knowledge that we are doing the right thing in opposing fascism and speaking for justice and a more equitable society are messages that will, in themselves, have the necessary power to prevail. Harper will fall, as tyrants always do, and unless we stick with some principles, then whatever we replace him with could be just as bad.