From the Editor: The Economy Debate

No clear winner in recent economy debate

John Lehmann / The Globe and Mail

While watching the Maclean’s debate last month, I thought that our politicians were incapable of letting each other speak. Watching the Globe and Mail debate two weeks ago, I thought that they bickered even more, and I could feel second-hand stress from David Walmsley. I think that a journalist of his calibre should be able to keep the debate on track, but he wasn’t able to on the same level as Paul Wells. If you had to ask me who won the Globe and Mail debate, I’d have to say Justin Trudeau, though I’m sure that no one would have swung their opinion based solely on this debate.

Trudeau came off, to me at least, as being the debate’s most aggressive participant. While every leader on stage went off-topic during the first half, often resorting to talking points, sometimes relying on the same ones multiple times, the second half turned out to be much better. In this later half, Trudeau did a surprisingly good job at differentiating himself from the other leaders. Announcing openly his plans to leave the budget unbalanced for a few years puts him in an interesting position. I felt as if I actually learned a little bit about the Liberal plan, whereas I didn’t learn much about the NDP or Conservative.

Mulcair was much the same as he was in the last debate—calm, collected and slow. He scored what were some clever zingers. Regarding Trudeau’s plan to run a modest deficit, while previously criticizing the Conservative deficit, Mulcair quipped “So I think, Justin, that it’s only fair to say that when your advisors tell you one thing and another, and they’re totally contradictory, pick one. You just can’t say them both.” Another one came when he made a point of Canada flip-flopping historically between Liberal and (Progressive) Conservative, and that for the first time, the NDP was a realistic third option.

Harper did his best to be “the only sane person in the room,” and found every moment to emphasize that the other parties would raise taxes. “The reality is,” seemed to be a very common sentence-starter. He has been Prime Minister for almost 10 years, so he feels that he has the right to speak like he’s seen it all, talking like a business-to-business salesman. An election ago, Harper promised to lower taxes and keep the economy strong. Well, for several years the economy was really, really good. We did incredibly well versus other countries, but in 2015, we’re having trouble. Harper’s plan worked in a different economic climate than the one we have now.

As for the actual debate format itself, I was a little disappointed. Walmsley wasn’t very good at reeling the bickering politicians in, and he sometimes “participated” in the debate. I would presume that moderators should be as detached as possible, and exist only to enforce the rules. I was also disappointed that they didn’t invite Elizabeth May, considering how well she performed in the Maclean’s debate.

However, what I am most surprised about is the lack of movement in the polls after two debates. While they weren’t televised as widely as the CBC debate was in 2011, I still expected some change. As of Sept. 22, Eric Grenier’s polltracker on CBC reports that the three main parties are around 30 per cent each in the polls, give or take one per cent. Very strange, given that a poor performance by Ignatieff in the 2011 debate possibly tanked the Liberal party, as seen by the immediate shift in the polls following the debate.

A poll conducted by Forum Research shortly after the debate last week showed that, out of a sample of 541 people, 30 per cent concluded that no one won the debate. The same poll also showed that 65 per cent of Conservatives thought Harper won, 60 percent of Liberals thought Trudeau won, and only 40 per cent of NDP voters liked Mulcair’s performance. These numbers are very interesting to me, and it seems to suggest that, possibly, party platform might matter more to Canadians than debate performance. I would tend to agree with them.

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