It’s now Day 20 of the campaign and the leaders are back on the road. Michael Ignatieff leads off with an announcement in Gatineau; Jack Layton is in Montreal; and Stephen Harper is in Beaupré, Quebec.
The French-language debate last night was another mixed bag. I watched the whole thing in French to get a better sense of the flow and language; I can pretty much say that Harper’s French was the poorest of the four leaders, and it worsened over the course of the evening. A few times, Harper stumbled over his words and had a hard time getting his message across.
In contrast to the English debates, Ignatieff took criticism well and was able to act on it; he looked into the camera (apparently, this makes one appear “prime ministerial”) and spent time selling his party platform rather than getting caught up in sniping at the other leaders. His best moments were shutting down Harper’s arguments on the F-35 fighter jets; schooling Jack Layton on foreign affairs; and reminding Gilles Duceppe that, since it's 2011, there are things on the minds of Quebeckers other than the constitution.
Layton and Duceppe were at each other most of the night. Duceppe gave the best shut-down when he said, “Mr Layton, you know as well as I do that I'm not going to become prime minister and neither will you”; he tried to use that as a pitch for more Bloc votes to deny Harper a majority. While Duceppe was busy decrying Layton’s planned encroachments into provincial jurisdiction, he made his usual blunder around healthcare; he insisted that Ottawa should have no role to play and panned the “Ottawa knows best” approach. Duceppe once again ignores the fact that Health Canada’s job is to do countrywide regulation on things like drug approvals, safety regulations, testing medical devices and all those other pesky things that avoid some 13 areas of jurisdictional duplication. One of his other missteps was saying that cracking down on tax havens will help the middle class. Huh? Similarly, one of Layton’s lines that landed with a thud was yet another gratuitous attack on the Senate. Why? Quebeckers and other linguistic minorities actually tend to have an attachment to the upper chamber because it's been looking after minority language issues for most of the country’s history.
And then there was Harper. The leader who declared that he always respects provincial jurisdictions. Except, of course, when he doesn’t like them. *cough* Insite *cough* Harper spent most of the evening looking irrelevant as Duceppe was the prime target, though he didn't get off scot-free. He got far more flustered in the French debate than in the English. He played certain situations well: when an argument over Quebec and the constitution was going on, he stood back until he could say that Canada needs a majority government to avoid having these guys bicker over the constitution instead of governing. Well, until the moderators put him on the spot about the issue.
But that was that and now they all get back in their planes to resume their tours.
Incidentally, Ignatieff wore a pink shirt to show his support for Pink Shirt Day, a national campaign to raise awareness about bullying.
Elsewhere, Auditor General Sheila Fraser reiterates that it’s against the rules for her to release her report to a Parliament that currently does not exist. End of story.
More drama in Vaughan – two members of the Conservative riding association have quit over Julian Fantino and his of handling of public funds for a major healthcare project there. This really is going to be a hotly contested riding, isn’t it?
Also embarrassing for the Conservatives was a leaked email from a party worker in Etobicoke-Centre looking for people in “ethnic costumes” to be part of the human backdrop for Harper’s event there later tonight. Of course, the party is disavowing this "mistake"; it does raise more questions about the Conservative commitment to reaching out to ethno-cultural communities for genuine – as opposed to opportunistic – reasons.
One of the world’s leading HIV/AIDS researchers is encouraging people not to vote Conservative because Harper is behind even the pope when it comes to AIDS issues. Ouch!
A medical marijuana court challenge may wind up striking down pot laws across the country. The government is currently considering the appeal, but I can’t see why the Conservatives wouldn’t try to spin this to their advantage by proving that they need to be voted in to put a stop to these activist judges.
And finally, this story shows why Americans are insane when it comes to their justice system. A Florida woman was granted refugee status in Canada after an American court sentenced her to 30 years in prison for having sex with her son’s 16-year-old friend. That’s right – the same sentence as a murderer. Fortunately, our refugee officials see reason and are offering her protection.