'Fraid I missed the entire first hour of tonight's french language debate due to a mix of parenting duties and my sacred responsibilities as Al Goulem's biggest fan.
Duceppe was on his home turf and coasted through masterfully as usual, making scathing points about Martin (a talk-the-talk but not walk-the-walk kind of guy, in his estimation), and saving the occasional shot for Harper as well.
Harper was, basically, as scintillating as a big tub of margarine (official Quebec-grade, extra light yellow) that breaks into a disturbingly forced little smile at the end of every sentence. He framed virtually every response as a question of the federal government not over-stepping its bounds into provincial jurisdiction, and stifled his giddiness at labeling Liberals as criminals with an entitlement complex. He was clearly trying to turn on the charm (which just gives me the willies), but I have to say his command of french does seem to have improved since the last debate.
Martin was wearing a bright blue shirt with a crimson tie, the two of which conspired to give the impression his wardrobe was attempting a hostile takeover of their host. It made it hard to concentrate on what he was saying (but he stuttered less than yesterday, and seemed more "on"). He looked somewhat wan as he listened to Duceppe and Layton reciting statistics of millions of Canadian children still living in poverty despite years of Liberal governments' heartfelt promises to Put an End to this, Once and For All.
Martin's best moment was when he layed into Harper, telling him it's not very Prime Ministerial to go on American TV and slam your own country for not joining in on the Iraq invasion. (Good move reminding Quebeckers of this fact - we were considerably more negative on that war than the Canadian average).
Layton was less repetitive than in the english debate (thank God) and his command of the issues was strong. He used his "winning conditions" for Quebec within Canada line from last night's debate (which does sound nice - more so in french; but where's the beef?) Then he tried to frame last year's NDP-revised budget as a response to the fiscal imbalance while painting Harper and Martin with the same brush: as fat cats favouring tax cuts for big corporations over money for social programs. Layton also blasted Harper on his promised GST cut, asking what's to keep commercial outlets from cynically raising their prices and negating any savings for consumers?
Duceppe, Layton and Harper all went after Martin for his surprise announcement yesterday that he wants to take away the option of using the Notwithstanding clause for federal lawmakers. They all seemed bewildered, and either made cogent arguments for keeping the constitution as is, or used it as a prime example of Martin's lack of vision, pointing out that the things he believes in Very Very Dearly is constantly changing.
Of course Martin used that as a pretext to shoot back at Harper for being a turncoat to his own deeply held convictions over the past 20 years, what with all these new policy announcements.
So there was a lot of excitement tonight, and from what I saw I'd say it was the best debate of the four. I'm taping the Radio-Canada newscast right now while the wifey watches Gilmore Girls. I can't wait to see Bernard Derome's take on it; he can always tell when Rory is heading for a romantic disappointment.
He may even have something to say about politics too.
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