The third Liberal leadership debate was held today in Mississauga, and while the format was somewhat more successful than the previous debacle, it really did reinforce the candidate ranking that has emerged over the course of the debates. The one-on-one questions could have been better served if each exchange were another minute longer, and the moderate stepped in when they tried to talk about themselves in the form of a question. Because really, take the format seriously. The three-person debates worked quite well, and got the best traction of the debates to date.
Remaining in the bottom four were David Bertschi, George Takach, Martin Cauchon and Karen McCrimmon. If this contest were like RuPaul’s Drag Race, as it should be, then Bertschi and at least one other would have been eliminated by this point, but alas, they are still hanging around. And once again, they reminded us why they are in the bottom four.
Bertschi seems determined to become the unintentional comic relief of the race. He disagreed with Martha Hall Findlay on supply management, saying you can’t “trade the cow for magic beans.” And thus was born magic bean economics on the Twitter Machine. He also was concerned about “Dutch Elm disease” instead of “Dutch disease,” and in the scrums afterward, he was posing rhetorical questions to the media while touting his upcoming five speeches and his Twenty-Four Point Plan™. No, seriously. Hot republican mess George Takach was trying to be the funny one, but kept trying too hard, and kept shooting himself in the foot. Rob Ford jokes, implied that he needed to help Marc Garneau– you know, the astronaut with a PhD in engineering – with math, picking fights with Joyce Murray about tree-planting, and kept trying to claim a monopoly on broadband – because apparently every other candidate was opposed to it. Oh wait – they’re not. He chided small businesses for not having websites, when he was spending the summer touring his leadership ambitions without a website. (If you recall, I went looking for it). Worst of all, Takach got snippy with reporters in the scrums afterward, and when one of them demanded an answer to her question, he simply said “Next question,” before his time elapsed. Way to go with that winning media strategy. Cauchon was a fairly non-entity in the debate, other than appearing to have come from a time machine to 1995. Probably the most memorable moment was being asked about how to connect with youth, and he talked about 1993. You know, before a significant enough segment of that youth demographic was even born. And Karen McCrimmon again had an inconsistent performance, with some high points talking about service, and some low points involving etymology as part of non-answers.
Remaining in the middle was Deborah Coyne once again, ever the policy wonk, but she did make one comment that I will call out, which was her assertion that Canadians are well informed about politics. No. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our civic literacy is appalling in this country. With a handful of exceptions – and I do mean handful – MPs don’t even know their own job descriptions. Anytime someone makes that kind of blatantly wrong declaration in order to flatter voters makes me really nervous. Falling into the middle bracket this time was Martha Hall Findlay. She was going on strong, ad libbing and performing strong on exchanges until she became entirely unhinged mid-way through. She decided that the talk of the “middle class” was trying to impose a discussion about a class system in Canada, which she says is largely non-existent (and to be fair, it’s nothing like it is in a place like England), but then she tried to wield that against Trudeau. On the one hand, she insisted there was no class, and then immediately turned it around and attacked him for not being part of the middle class that he wants to defend. Oops. Trudeau took the opening, gave an impassioned speech about service to the country, and knocked it out of the park, leaving Hall Findlay looking all the worse for it. During the scrums, she insisted that it wasn’t a personal attack, but she had lost a lot of face by this time.
All of this leaves the three sitting MPs at the top this week. Joyce Murray gave her strongest performance to date, taking down Takach by complimenting him on all of the jobs he helped outsource to China, and generally being on point with most of her responses. If there was a problem that I could identify – other than the fantasy notion of electoral cooperation as a viable option – was that her constant use of “When I was a minister in the BC government…” to preface her responses. It started to become a little bit like “Like this one time, at band camp…” Yeah. Garneau was much feistier than usual, ditching anecdotes about vacuuming, but came across as overly aggressive in some cases, almost unnecessarily. Leaving Trudeau to pretty much clean up, yet again. If he had a weak spot, it was the opening exchange with Garneau where he gave a fairly weak answer on his record of accomplishments that would qualify him to lead the party and the country, but after the opening that Hall Findlay gave him, it was all over.
And sadly, RuPaul once again did not appear at the end of the debate and in order to force the bottom to debate for their lives, the loser being sent home. Because by this point, Bertschi, Takach and Cauchon would be gone by now, and the race would be getting more focused and serious.