Here's the thing about so-called Reality TV: it's unscripted in the sense that writers don't provide the actual lines to the participants, but the characters all play to form, and the lines are all cliché. And that about sums up the first English-language leader's debate of the 2006 Canadian election.
Martin and Layton put on their best passion play, wearing their country on their respective sleeves. Martin's constant refrain was "the country is great, look at all we've done," while Layton responded with "the country is becoming great because of all we've done, send more NDPers to Ottawa." I guess he missed his wife over the last eighteen months. Duceppe, who was first to say that once something is decided by a free vote that should be the end of it (as in same-sex marriage), and the last to say that Québec should keep having referenda until the answer comes out "right." And Harper? He looked like someone slipped him a Valium before the debate, wearing a smug smile and telling Canadians to make a change, without asking too many questions about precisely what the changes Harper has in mind might really do to the country.
Although I very much liked the format - the stereotypical ordinary Canadians asking the tough questions with moderator Trina McQueen doing the follow-ups - any attempt at one leader attempting to hold another's feet to the fire was easily sloughed off, with very few exceptions. So it wasn't really a debate; more like "which policy line do I read in response to this question?"
I know someone will ask whether it was hot or cool (hot being higher definition, little participation, inducing a trance-like state; cool being less information, a greater need to fill-in-the-blanks, awakening awareness). Almost by definition, such an exercise as a leaders' debate cannot be a cool event, as the cool politician would almost invariably be accused of evading the issues. While the videotaped questions might appear to make it a cooler event, the reality of the matter is that the questions asked were selected from among 10,000 submitted; no surprises, nothing unexpected, no chance to be cool. And I guess that goes double for Harper. (Mock turtle-neck sweaters don't make you cool, Stephen.)
On a related matter, why was Giles Duceppe in the English-language debate, anyway? He has nothing useful to say to English-Canadian voters. (Don't get me wrong: the cultural concerns and equity concerns of Québec are legitimate and important components of the national discourse, but I, and most Canadians have no way to respond to Duceppe during an election.) Duceppe has no candidates running outside of Québec. His podium should better be relinquished to the Green Party, who DO have something potentially different to say to English Canada (as well as to Canada Français). And hearing something different might even be a welcome change.
Apology: As pointed out by one of the commenters, I completely forgot about the approximately 10% of Québecers for whom English is their first language, and who deserve to hear Duceppe in his second language.
[Technorati tags: election | debate | martin | harper | layton | duceppe]