It’s now Day 19 of the campaign, and we’re busy poring over the entrails of last night’s debate as we wait for the French debate tonight.
Before I get started on the debate, let me just say one thing. Jack Layton's latest stunt, writing a letter to the auditor general and the other party leaders that pleads for an early release of her report, is just that – a stunt. What’s more, it’s galling that Layton (and other leaders, for that matter) is asking that Fraser break the rules for his own benefit, considering that the government was brought down because they broke the very rules of parliamentary democracy (telling the truth to Parliament). And this fact really needs to be reiterated as the chattering classes keep repeating that we need to see the report. The information is largely out there already. It adds only one more piece to the narrative of the government’s repeated pattern of abuses, so this one report should be inconsequential in the broader picture. Asking Fraser to break the rules because it suits the parties should give everyone pause. Remember that two wrongs don’t make a right, and we should stop pretending that they do in this convenient case.
And now for the debates. There really weren’t any knockout moments or any other sports analogies that can be applied. Harper spent the night looking into the camera instead of at his opponents, never meeting them in the eyes. Although it was disconcerting, some commentators said it made him look “prime ministerial.” He never went on the attack, but at one point, he incredulously said that the whole contempt of Parliament issue was a “disagreement” and then said that there was no ruling from either a court or the Speaker, so it didn’t count. Um, no. Contempt of Parliament is a decision that belongs to neither the courts nor the Speaker; it belongs to the House of Commons. It’s their job to hold the government to account, not the courts or the Speaker. Harper continues to show his contempt by confusing the issue and trying to make it look like it was no big deal – just a partisan disagreement. This fact needs to be driven home.
Ignatieff did pick up on the democracy issue; one of his best moments of the evening was when he told Harper, “This isn’t bickering – this is democracy.” He also really stood out on the foreign policy question, especially when he schooled Layton on our commitments in Afghanistan. But he also faltered trying to get his message out; that's going to count against him with those who felt he needed to knock the night out of the park (oops – sports analogy) to begin to move his poll numbers. That said, he had the strongest closing statement, which Liberals everywhere rushed to put out over the web.
Layton had his moments. He spent more time attacking Ignatieff than he did Harper. This is of note given all the noise he made at the beginning of the campaign about how he was going after Harper and how he was targeting Conservative seats. Layton's best score of the night was bringing up Ignatieff’s voting record and his absences from the House, which Ignatieff didn’t address. (Although to be fair, a lot of those votes were cursory and with many of them, the party had an interest in not having enough MPs in the House to win, lest they bring the government down prematurely.) Layton had a few problems too, such as when he appealed to the ghost of Stephen Harper past by asking what had happened to the old idealist who was going to do things differently? Then, in response to a question on crime, he talked about “bling” and actually used the phrase “hashtag fail." While the NDP spin machine said that the Twitterverse raged over “hashtag fail," they neglected to mention that the Twitterverse thought the use of the term was indeed a #fail.
Then there was Gilles Duceppe. While he didn’t turn in a stellar performance, he still kept after Harper, giving one zinger after another. Generally speaking, he gave his usual performance, which makes English Canada wish that he wasn’t a separatist who ran candidates in only one province. On his own turf in the French debate, he will likely be the man to beat.
(Incidentally, here is the CBC’s fact check of the debate.)
Back to the auditor general: her office is going to investigate the leaks of the draft copies of her report and a former AG offers a number of reasons why Fraser may have toned down some of the language between drafts.
And here is a look at what the government’s plan to eliminate the Source Country Class refugee program would mean for people fleeing persecution in the countries on that list.