I watched last night's English language election debate with interest. I was shocked at how quickly the two hours passed, although this was greatly aided by the fact that I wrote and read a steady stream of commentary on Twitter and Facebook (sorry to my followers and friends who don't give a damn about the Canadian federal election!). It helped me to keep watching without blowing a gasket. I felt like I was at a bar with friends hooting and hollering, except that I was in my basement drinking tea with my son and my spouse (another advantage to Tweeting during the debate was that I had to keep looking down at my Blackberry. This kept the orange decor from searing my retinas and Harper's cold eyes from turning me to stone).
I thought that all the opposition party leaders did well. Duceppe delivered the best opening line ("Congratulations, Mr. Harper, for answering your first question from a citizen during this election campaign.") but petered off towards the end. It's got to be brutal doing a two-hour debate in one's second language. By and large, I find it a pity that the Bloc only speaks for Quebec, as they are so consistenly solid on most social issues. They lose me, however, when it comes to questions of immigration and multi-culturalism. Nationalism and multiculturalism don't go so well together.
Layton was calm and measured and many people with whom I've spoken found his performance to be much stronger than in previous debates. Personally, I would have liked him to be a bit more aggressive, as he left it to Ignatieff to drive home the points that are near and dear to my heart. Kudos to him for mentioning proportional representation and for this seriously funny (but cheap) line: "I don't know why we need more prisons when the crooks seem so happy in the Senate."
I thought the evening, however, belonged to Ignatieff. He stayed on message (although I found "You shut down what you can't control" to be more effective the first time he said it than the tenth) and was forceful and articulate. He hit all the right notes on all the key issues and challenged Harper on gun control, immigration, crime, health care and transparency. He looked positively Prime Ministerial (my favourite Iggy line of the night, "This isn't bickering Mr. Harper. It's democracy.")
Is any of this going to change my vote? Absolutely not. I remember when the Liberals were in power and they were singing from a different songbook then. Happily, my NDP candidate is an incumbent who has done an excellent job, locally and for the country. I'll vote for Paul Dewar and I won't even have to hold my nose.
But if I lived in a riding where the race was one between the Tories and the Liberals? I just might be voting strategically this time around.
Perhaps none of it will make a difference though. All the pundits who did wrap-up commentary last night seemed to agree that Harper had won the evening. Even my beloved Chantal Hébert was unhesitating in her praise of Harper's performance. Did Canadians watching at home feel the same way? Did undecided voters? Do any undecided voters watch the debates?
I can't recall a time when I have felt as strongly about voting. I keep reading assertions that if all eligible voters under 25 and all women voted, Harper would be out on his ass.
Let's make that happen, shall we?