Brian Topp
3 min

A much feistier debate in Winnipeg

Today’s NDP debate, brought to us from
Winnipeg, Manitoba, was under the rather vague theme of “connecting people and
the regions.” Judging from the questions asked, it was more of a veneer of a
theme rather than an actual one, given that it didn’t extend beyond the first two questions,
which were about how to win more seats in the Prairies, as the NDP came in
second in 85 percent of ridings, and whether Harper was creating a cultural
divide between urban and rural Canada.

After the lame robo-call and Vic Toews
jokes in the opening statements, things immediately got a bit sticky in the
first group debate – on rural versus urban Canada – when there was a bit of a
pile-up on Nathan Cullen for his joint-nominations proposal as a mechanism to
win new votes. But things really got testy – and downright snappish – during
the first “question period” round. Now that membership sales are over, it looks
like the gloves are starting to come off, and the various candidates are
legitimately going after one another. Mulcair wanted to know why Dewar was only
targeting 70 ridings in the next election, thereby ceding others to the
Conservatives (while he engaged in a bit of revisionist history as to what
happened in Quebec in the last election), while Cullen wondered why Mulcair
didn’t show up to a bunch of unofficial debates (Mulcair: I was busy with other
commitments, we all plan our own schedules). When Dewar tried to go after Nash
over another inconsistency, she snapped at him that if he wanted to run against
her record, she would win. (She’s running a positive campaign, everyone!) Martin
Singh went after Brian Topp’s tax proposals as harmful to charities
(continually citing that he works for the Canadian Federation for Sexual
Health), while Topp rejected his arguments. Ashton didn’t care for Mulcair's
characterizing the party’s tone as “finger-wagging and hectoring,” while Nash
went after Mulcair for saying the party needs to renew itself when Layton did
plenty of renewal.

After the obligatory French round on the
topic of reducing the crime rate – pretty much violent agreement directed to
investing in prevention, housing, skills training, with the odd aside from Topp
that we need a focus on white-collar crime – it was back to another testy
“question period” round. Dewar wanted Mulcair’s approach to fundraising in the
new post-subsidy age (Mulcair: a “structured, modern approach” with use of
outreach companies); Mulcair said he couldn’t find Cullen’s policies on the "hollowing out" of the industrial base on his website (Cullen: Ouch! My poor
web designer! Boo petrodollar!). Cullen wanted Dewar’s economic platform, since
he doesn’t have specifics on how he’s going to pay for all of his promises
(Dewar: It’s all based on the party platform, and I had the same economist sign
off on my plans, too); Ashton tried to get Mulcair to choose between provincial
rights and the gun registry (Mulcair: It was flawed, but we can’t let go of this
public safety tool); Singh tried to get Nash to attack Topp’s tax plans on his
behalf (Nash made segues instead); and Nash went after Topp on his lack of a
seat and what would happen if no Quebec MP would step down to let him run
(Topp: Hey, our last two leaders didn’t have seats when they ran either).

And with a final question on how awful
robo-calls were (“politics of division,” New Politics™, we need proportional
representation), they all gave their pro-forma closing remarks and we were through.

This was definitely the least boring debate
so far, but for as much as they were actually going after one another, it did
tend to be over one or two smaller points of distinction – Cullen’s
joint-nominations proposal and some taxation issues (basically how much more
you would raise corporate taxes and how), while the rest of the disagreements
were attempts at finding inconsistencies or disagreements on characterizations.
Because they really do still sing from the same songbook, though the brewing
Topp-Mulcair battle does seem to be shaping up over just how well Mulcair
really does (though that was less on display today, aside from a couple of pointed

As for Cullen’s proposal, I would remind
you to check out this analysis done by Pundit’s Guide, which looks at electoral
data to see just how feasible it is – and largely serves as a debunking of the
proposal’s merits. Because really – you can’t simply expect Liberals to vote
for the NDP en masse, or vice versa, and even Cullen
s proposed mechanisms are still really vague about a lot of the necessary details to make it work.

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