The third of five debates (which you can watch here) between the nine Liberal leadership candidates was held a couple of days ago, except this time it was so much better - mainly because yours truly was in the audience. Also because almost every candidate kicked ass and took a name - and two failed spectacularly to impress the audience with their jabs.
The format of the debate, which was an actual debate this time, was actually pretty good. The first hour was a set of one-on-one debates between two candidates, with one asking a question of the other. All nine candidates faced each other, though only a few of these exchanges were interesting, as we'll see. The second hour featured three candidates speaking on a particular topic, most of which were focused on the economy. These two formats worked well I think, especially the one-on-one debates, which allowed for the candidates to express themselves a little more freely, and finally get in some good jabs here and there. It was good to see the candidates start and try to make a race out of this, instead of holding each other's hands while they skip towards the finish line.
Anyways, I'll cover in some detail the "big four," starting with the person everyone has been talking about this week,
Martha, Martha, Martha... you had such a good debate up until your last appearance on stage. Martha Hall Findlay, who has tried to come into this race as a policy heavyweight, someone willing to come forward with interesting ideas and talk frankly about some sensitive topics. Her image is that of a smart businesswoman who knows what needs to be done, will move Canada into the 21st Century, forge a new path ahead, blah blah etc. At certain points in this race, and even during the debate, I was thinking that Martha was going to be my candidate, someone whose banner I could support.
Then Martha did the stupidest thing you could do in this race. During her last appearance on stage during a three-way portion with Trudeau and Deborah Coyne, she deviated from the question and decided to talk about how she objected to the use of the term, "middle class" - one that Trudeau has been using constantly. She had said something earlier in French about it, but obviously I didn't catch what she said. In this instance, however, she decided to rope in Trudeau, challenging him on what exactly he knew about representing the "middle class."
Let's admit, Trudeau had a fairly cushy life growing up, and makes a goodly sum these days through speaking engagements, MP pay, and other income. He isn't uber-rich, but he isn't what we'd call "middle class." Nevertheless, the second those words came out of Martha's mouth, the crowd turned wildly against her, booing and shouting, with Martha trying to go on but just being drowned out. Then Trudeau sealed the nomination, but I'll talk about that in a minute.
If it weren't for this stupid remark, which Hall Findlay apologized for eventually, she would've had a ho-hum but still impressive debate. She did well otherwise, but that last part overshadowed everything. I don't believe Martha should drop out, that's stupid - but I wouldn't blame her if she did, either.
Marc Garneau, I felt at least, had a good debate. Often considered Trudeau's "best" challenger, Garneau faced off with Trudeau in the very first one-on-one, asking the first question. Given his recent attacks against Trudeau, it was obvious what it would be. Garneau asked Trudeau to lay out substantial policy, and... well, he didn't get it. You can see the gears turning in the Garneau campaign, though, because they think they have a winner on this lightweight vs. experience angle. In my opinion, they do - but the biggest problem is that Garneau's own campaign is a little light on policy as well. This also showed throughout the debate, as you couldn't necessarily nail Garneau down on anything specific. A couple of other candidates, including Trudeau, made a point of this as well.
Overall Garneau's debate was ho-hum, and he didn't do any damage to himself like Hall Findlay managed. But he still has a lot of catching up to do.
Joyce Murray's debate wasn't nearly as interesting as the first two, simply because I personally find the novelty of her co-operation idea to have worn off. This doesn't mean she had a bad debate, however - in fact she had a great one. The defense of her co-operation idea (come to think of it, the attacks on it as well) were a little lacking - as someone who has thought about this idea, I haven't seen her give a substantial reason why we should do it, or vice versa from the other candidates. But, on other subjects, Murray did well. Whether it was on job creation, on trade, or talking about her experiences as a cabinet member, she came off as thoughtful and interesting.
If it wasn't for the co-operation thing, Murray would be up there on my list of people to support. She's more experienced than half of the people on the stage, she's a successful business owner, and she pulls no punches. One of her best moments, if a little disingenuous, was her counter-attack against George Takach's stupid goings-on about her tree business, with Murray accusing Takach of sending jobs overseas. It was a great jab, and it really deflated Takach. Murray's definitely quick on her feet, which is a valuable asset in any political race.
Then we come to Justin Trudeau - and there's nothing to say except that he won that debate with the way he responded to Martha's attack. Trudeau, after the booing had died down, launched into a passionate defense of his abilities to understand Canadians of any income level. He noted that he faced the exact same attack when he initially ran for the nomination in Papineau, as well as during the two general election races he's been in. Just to note, Papineau is one of the poorest ridings in the country - in order to represent that kind of riding, its obvious Trudeau knows how to connect to his constituents. He explained all of this and more in an effective counter to Hall Findlay that won over the crowd. It was, quite simply, a defining moment in this race that I don't think should be played down. Trudeau kicked ass.
As for the rest of the debate... eh. Trudeau gave his standard performance, which is always good but never very specific. He did counter Garneau's attacks well enough, and he held his own in the debate. Other than that, not much to say. His frontrunner status is still solid, and this race continues to be his to lose.
The other five candidates all had varying performances, most of it good, but none of them broke away from the pack. I think anyone interested in this race is used to Karen McCrimmon's awesome personality by now, so not much to say there. I was more interested in what Martin Cauchon had to say this debate, but I wasn't blown away by any of his answers on any questions. Deborah Coyne was also an interesting person to watch, but again, I wasn't blown away by anything she said. One of her best moments was related to the Hall Findlay-Trudeau spat, where she said quite coolly that she wanted no part in that kind of squabble - I liked that. David Bertschi continues to be there.
Then we come to George Takach. Holy crap, this guy could not help but continue to step in it. Takach is an interesting candidate, but he was smacked down by Joyce Murray early on. He tried to attack her position on creating jobs, owing to an earlier slight jab from Murray against his Bay St credentials. Takach said something against Murray's business, and Murray came back with the "sending jobs overseas" remark. This completely deflated Takach, and several times throughout the debate, even when not facing against Murray, he kept bringing up trees. At one point, when talking about youth unemployment, he basically said that planting trees was not enough. This got a big boo from the crowd, and Takach had to pathetically backpedal saying how he "likes trees." It was a stupid, stupid moment.
That should cover things. I feel that our race is becoming limited to my original "top three" - Trudeau, Garneau, and Murray. Those three seem to be the most substantial candidates of the race, the ones with either the best fundraising or an apparent groundswell of grassroots support. Hall Findlay could be up there, but that one remark will forever haunt her.
As for me, I've narrowed down my choice for leader, I think. If you're truly interested, I'll be going over it tomorrow.