After watching the debates last night, while moving back and forth between Twitter and my political junkie group, and then later listening to the media provide their commentary, I wondered if they had been viewing the same debate.
Indeed, while most favoured Stephen Harper, the audience test groups scored it differently: 49% for Ignatieff, 34% for Layton and only 18% for Harper.
Is the Canadian media, in particular the "At Issue" panel, really that out of touch with Canadians? Only Allan Gregg seems to have gotten it right. Coyne we know is right-wing so if Harper had mooned the audience and then fell to the floor in the fetal position, he would have said that he showed passion and still declared him the winner. As for Chantal Hebert, I have no idea where her mind is these days. She used to be one of favourites.
Prior to the show, Nik Nanos had suggested that all eyes would be on Ignatieff. He was the rookie. Nanos also rightfully predicted that Harper would focus on the economy, and he did. So much so that Kady O'Malley twitted his chant. Others played a drinking game, doing a shot every time he said "let me be clear". A lot of hangovers this morning I'm afraid.
Of course there's another reason why the pundits missed, what the audience picked up on immediately. Almost everything Stephen Harper said was a lie. He just lies so convincingly. Not one person on the panel mentioned that.
We are not leading developed nations in economic recovery. In fact, we're somewhere in the middle. And given that we also have the highest amount of household debt, consumer spending will probably lag, making recovery even slower.
He lied about not intimidating the NGOs. He lied about our immigration policy. He lied about being world leaders and his commitment to human rights. He lied about our foreign aid and Africa, because most of our foreign aid is wrapped up in the budget for Afghanistan.
I missed Elizabeth May last night because she would have been all over him about that.
I also found Jack Layton's barb about Ignatieff's attendance record a bit of a cheap shot. The implication was that he was a loafer, but he was engaged, travelling the country to refute the Conservative "just visiting" label.
The year prior, Harper missed more votes. But as Joan Bryden reminds us:
..those numbers can be misleading. For instance, the prime minister and official Opposition leader generally don't vote on private members' bills, which can skew their voting records. Moreover, voting records aren't necessarily an accurate reflection of MPs' attendance records, which aren't made public. An MP can be present in the Commons during the day but miss a series of votes in the evening — an occurrence that's more likely for leaders who must attend fundraisers and other party events.Layton scored a point for Harper on that one, but in the long term I don't think his attendance will be a huge election issue.
The Way I Personally Saw the Debates
Gilles Duceppe - Was strong for the most part. He's always lively and spot on. I do question why he was allowed in, when as a separatist he can't be prime minister, and Elizabeth May not, when conceivably she could be.
He was starting to lose his cool a bit though, when Harper refused to acknowledge the fact that he tried to be prime minister in 2004, in a coalition, that as Tom Flanagan himself admitted "included the full support of the Bloc". Even an old Mike Duffy interview confirmed the Harper wheeling and dealing. Another lie that got him a pass from the media.
Jack Layton - Though at times he appeared pompous, for the most part he was passionate and clear in his arguments. It's easy to take the high road when you have no history of being in power, so no old scandals to wear. I loved his remark about the need for jails when the criminals had found a place in the senate.
Aside from the cheap shot, there were two other comments of his that made me angry. One was about the Liberals propping up the government. He uses this a lot and in fact sent out ten per centers with a tab. But then when Ignatieff tried to take the government down a year ago, Layton pulled in his horns and kept Harper alive.
The other, and the one that really showed an ugly side of Mr. Layton, was when he attacked the Liberals on their environmental record. According to Elizabeth may in her book 'Losing Confidence', Layton attempted to sabotage the ratification of the Kyoto Accord. She pleaded with him not to but he refused to even take her calls.
Then in 2008 he campaigned against the Carbon Tax, aping the Conservative assault, and then afterward claimed that he shouldn't have done that. I hit the roof. Such hypocrisy.
Michael Ignatieff - When he was using political talking points, like corporate tax cuts, jets and prisons, he sounded like a politician and I tuned out. But when he spoke of things like democracy, human rights and our international standing, he spoke like a prime minister.
In December of 2009, Michael Ignatieff was named one of the world's top 100 thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine, "for showing that not all academics are irrelevant." He also made Forbes prestigious list of people to watch for in 2010:
"After decades in Britain and the U.S., the professional intellectual returned to his native Canada and became head of the Liberal party. If a federal election is called in 2010, he could become the next prime minister, and the Canadian head of state with the biggest international profile since Pierre Trudeau."That shone through.
In fact when Layton went after both he and Harper on Afghanistan, Ignatieff's answer was brilliant. He actually threw Harper a life line, who had resorted to the tired "men and women in uniform", even stumbling over the words. He reminded me of Peter Braid who was turned to jelly by Tom Clark, with the same answer.
My Favourite Moment - There was a moment in the debates that I found compelling. It was over the topic of crime and youth justice. Michael Ignatieff in his answer turned to Gilles Duceppe and praised him for Quebec's young offender strategy. Duceppe was taken aback and for a few moments the mutual respect was palpable.
The Big Issue That Everyone Missed
Nik Nanos claimed that all eyes would be on Michael Ignatieff because he was a rookie. However, that's not why all eyes were on him.
There is a huge grassroots movement committed to ousting Stephen Harper. Strategic voting, adopting ridings, running ads in papers, Facebook groups, the list is endless.
When I speak with people I hear two words used the most often. "Fear' and 'scary'. They are terrified of Harper getting a majority and feared that Igantieff wasn't up to the task of replacing him.
My neighbour, who is not an alarmist, but a retired professor at RMC, told me the same thing. Stephen Harper is not just a bad prime minister, but his ideology is terrifying, and if he is allowed to continue on the same course, it could forever change who we are as Canadians.
Following on Twitter and other social media groups, I sensed a feeling of 'relief'.
There was one comment that should have at least garnered a bit of discussion from the media. In the focus group of young people, they overwhelmingly gave the debate to Jack Layton. He said the right things to reach the young audience.
However, as one young woman said, "But if we want to get rid of Harper, we have to go red". Strategic voting and getting out the youth on election day, could make history.