5 things I learned from the leadership debate

Op-eds Opinions

The Globe and Mail leadership debate on Sept. 17 marked the first time in a month that the three Canadian electoral front-runners (really, the only runners in our first-past-the-post system; apologies to the Greens and the Bloc) had to stand together and answer questions. In case you missed it, here are a few things we learned:

  1. This election is tight, and the leadership is starting to chafe. Or maybe this is what trying looks like: with polling data slotting everyone 30-odd per cent of the national vote, no one let anything go without a fight. The result might be called passionate or just plain petty, but all the leaders came out swinging, taking swipes at each other’s platforms, personal records, and party records. (Zero New Democrat prime ministers in 150 years? Oh, play it again, Steve!) This being Canada, no one noticeably crossed a line, so despite some great one-liners, it’s all tied up between three white dudes proclaiming change: one tall, one less tall, and one almost short.
  2. Students are not an economic priority, but young people are. In a sidestep worthy of a young Kevin Bacon, both the Liberal and NDP parties have decided to focus on struggling young folks, not by addressing education costs (despite recognizing that student debt serves as the under-30’s biggest economic stumbling block) but by lowering living costs through housing, job creation, and child care plans. Incidentally, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, has stated in her economic plans that reducing costs and forgiving student debt are a priority. So at least someone’s paying attention. Unfortunately, no one’s paying attention to them.
  3. The NDP and the Liberals care about the environment. The Conservatives aren’t bothered. Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair trotted out records of caring (reducing emis-sions, crusading against pipelines, etc.), promising to continue caring if elected. Harper mentioned that the government is invested in green energy. It might be worth noting that in the absence of the Greens, Mr. Mulcair was the individual who stepped in to champion the cause, for 20 whole minutes.
  4. Mr. Trudeau knows about the Great Depression. Not only does he constantly remind us that Prime Minister Harper’s economic policies are the worst since good ol’ Buggy Bennet and the Dirty Thirties (provided one turns their head sideways and squints a little), his own economic rollout appears to be the New Deal 2.0: invest in infrastructure and social programs, run a deficit, and get money out from government hands into Canadian pockets. Sorry, did I say government? I meant evil corporations and the wealthiest 1 per cent of Canadians, who will now be properly taxed. Government types are totally fine with money, anyway.
  5. Immigration is the one topic Harper clearly doesn’t win. That’s a big deal, in a race this close: anything in which the current leadership doesn’t win, even if they don’t necessarily lose either, is enough to let them slip. Despite the Conservatives falling back behind the Liberals for the first time as the refugee crises in Europe and the Middle East unfold, and despite public feeling being well against the Conservatives in this country of immigrants, Harper stuck to his guns: immigration is about benefitting the Canadian economy, and security is a non-negotiable priority over even that consideration. (Mr. Mulcair was the only candidate to acknowledge the existence of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in asweeping statement.)

The leadership debate left us without a clear winner, or even a clear loser to narrow the field a bit. However, we can now differentiate the three white dudes as far as the economy is concerned: the Liberals stand for action, spending, and radical improvement for the average Canadian. The Conservatives have determined that maintaining our current practices will bring more state surpluses; no change is the best change. The New Democrats are the moderates: less surplus, slight public spending, balanced budgets for all, everybody wins. Yes, as it turns out, Canada’s version of a radical, socialist labour party is further right than the Liberals. Welcome to Canada, everyone who’s already living here! Don’t forget to vote!