3 min

The Montreal debate: unity through alienation

The Montreal debate was pretty much a wash
when it came to substantive policy. While the topic was “Building a strong,
united Canada,” the answers to the issue were left wanting. Asked about how to
deal with the divisions arising between regions over energy policy, candidates
gave a number of platitudes about green energy, but some seemed to be more
intent on inflaming the West – and in particular Alberta – over the oil sands.
Both Mulcair and Topp seemed to think it was absurd that the West exports its
oil while the East has to import theirs, while the Shell refinery in Montreal
closed. Yet they seemed unable to grasp that we don’t have the east-west
pipeline capacity in this country to have that oil flow eastward. Dewar
explicitly said he wants to stop the growth of the oil sands – because that
won't foster any divisions.

The first of the “question period” rounds –
the only actual debate that takes place – saw a lot of the candidates going
after Mulcair on his support for unions in the light of “unfair trade
agreements,” party renewal, his history of donating to the party since becoming
an MP, proportional representation (he supports it but thinks abolishing the
Senate is more important – like that won’t inflame Quebec or the Atlantic
provinces). The other target of this round was Peggy Nash, who faced questions
on respecting provincial jurisdictions in regard to both tuition and
healthcare. Cullen demanded a “detailed plan” for uniting progressive voters –
never mind that his own evangelists keep telling me that his plan’s details
will be ironed out later (Nash answered with talk about being proud of their principles
and values and the value of proportional representation and what she would
tell Jim Flaherty about his budget if she became leader (raise taxes, don’t cut

Then there were two rounds of group debates on “creating
the winning conditions for Quebec in Canada” – never mind the inflammatory
language. Apparently the solution is jobs and the environment, equality, arts and culture, and
making the “Quebec as a nation within a united Canada” motion concrete,
the answers to which are pharmacare, language laws and “dialogue,” with the
added irony of Paul Dewar decrying toothless motions being passed in Parliament
and then not acted upon, even though the NDP passes plenty of such motions and
declares victory. The token English question was on the unity issue, which
was largely answered by a number of platitudes on asymmetrical federalism
(which we already have, incidentally), the Sherbrooke Declaration, and suggestions that
somehow defeating Harper will magically unite the country.

The second “question period” round was
started with Mulcair asking Cullen to clarify his support for the Sherbrooke
Declaration (Cullen agrees, and says that 50 percent plus one is a-okay) before
moving to questions to Paul Dewar on the “whisper campaign” about his French,
his preemptive choice in deputy leaders, and his position on taxation and the
Israel/Iran situation (answer: more diplomacy). We then moved on to another one
of Martin Singh’s somewhat bizarre tirades against Brian Topp on the capital
gains taxation question, whereby Singh accused Topp of lying in the Quebec City
debate followed by a bit of a gimme question from Cullen to Mulcair about jobs versus
the environment. And with one more round of questions in which everyone pretty
much promised that they would totally work together after the leadership
contest was over, we had our concluding remarks.

A couple of things I noticed this week were
that there was pretty much universal agreement among all of the candidates that
yes, taxes would need to be raised, or more specifically, corporate taxes.
You will notice that the focus during the “QP” rounds was on three candidates
(Mulcair, Nash and Dewar), which I’m sure has some kind of significance in
terms of who is considered a threat. Note that Topp was not on that list. This
debate seemed to return to a lot more platitudes than the previous couple,
where “uniting the regions” seemed more about pandering to Quebec than it did about
actually having useful dialogue between Quebec and the West on how those
differences might actually be bridged (like the unmentioned fact that Quebec’s
pension plan invests heavily in the oil sector in the West. Oops).

There is but one debate left, which is next
Sunday in Vancouver on the topic of “Opportunities for young and new Canadians,”
which I’m sure will similarly be full of platitudes about green jobs, lower
tuition and a “value-added economy.”

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