The final NDP leadership debate took place
this afternoon from Vancouver, under the theme of “Opportunities for Young and
New Canadians.” I’m not sure if it was just the lighting, but the candidates
all seemed fairly tired – which could also be because of cross-country flights –
but there wasn’t quite the same sense of energy and enthusiasm as in other
debates. Also, unlike other debates, the moderator – columnist Barbara Yaffe –
was actually calling out softball questions in debate rounds and asking for
specific proposals instead of slogans. We could have used a lot more of this in
previous debates. Also, they brought back the human backdrop, but at least it
was lit in such a way this time that they weren’t as intrusive into the frame,
so we didn’t spend quite as much time watching them yawning, taking out giant
handkerchiefs or falling asleep after playing with their iPads.
Can I say first of all that once again, a
series of lectures is not a debate? And reading off scripted questions in
overly formal and hectoring tones is also not a debate. It shouldn’t be allowed
in the House of Commons, as it so often is – especially from the majority of
MPs – and it most especially shouldn’t be allowed in a leadership debate like
this one. Niki Ashton was once again the worst offender in this category. If
you can’t think on your feet, then maybe you should reconsider your bid for
leadership. Just saying.
As for the debate itself, the opening round
of “the youth are our future” produced some fairly standard platitudes, and Yaffe
did push for specifics and not generalities. Nathan Cullen talked about his
program where he gets students to suggest ideas for private member's bills
that he puts forward under his name – neglecting to mention that all but one of
his PMBs will never, ever see the light of day, and the ones that do in the NDP
tend to be more about putting forward a party position than a personal or
riding one. Paul Dewar talked about the plan to reward students with a year of
tuition in exchange for volunteering for a year, which of course was more or
less a signature piece of the last Liberal platform, but who’s counting?
As usual the “question period” rounds were
where the action happened, and the first was once again largely a pile-on of
Mulcair, asking about his “modernization” plans, because apparently he’s being “down
on the party” by questioning it, no matter how many times Mulcair insisted that
it was more about adapting the central message for the audience (like he did in
Quebec). Cullen was also criticized for his cooperation plans, yet again.
Cullen tried to get Singh to apologize for attacking Topp, which Singh wouldn’t
do and huffily announced that a) he won’t be bullied, and b) he’s nobody’s
attack dog. Okay then.
After some lame “group debates” – or group
lectures, and a token French question on immigration (pretty much consensus
that foreign credentials recognition and family reunification are good things) –
we returned to the second “QP” round, which was a little less of a pile-on.
Dewar wanted more from Nash on her “pooling resources with Liberals” thoughts; Nash
wanted an organizational plan from Mulcair; Singh asked Ashton about the feasibility
of her pharmacare-through-Crown-corporation idea; Topp and Mulcair got in a
couple of softballs; and Cullen wanted Topp to explain how coalition talks were
substantially different from his joint nomination proposals.
And with a question from Yaffe about
reaching out to Westerners, which was mostly platitudes about the Wheat Board, the
“value-added” economy and environmental sustainability, and Brian Topp looking
for a compelling national project (wasn’t that Ignatieff’s shtick?), the
candidates gave their pro forma closing statements and we were done.
The leadership vote happens in Toronto
March 23 and 24, though most party members have
already sent in their preferential ballot (before the final debate, where
candidates like Topp had a better performance than in the past, it has been
noted). That means we’re just two weeks away from having a permanent NDP leader