The Canadian leaders’ debate! Electric! (Well, no.) Exciting! (Probably not.) Substantive! (Actually, there is a reasonable chance of this last one, due to Canadians having a low tolerance for electing intolerant fundamentalist Muppets to office.)
Minute one: Your contestants are Stephen “please give me a majority” Harper, Stephane “please don’t give him a majority” Dion, Jack “I will laughingly pretend I have a shot at a majority” Layton, Gilles “the French language debate already happened so I can totally fuck with everybody and it won’t matter” Duceppe, and Elizabeth “it’s an honor just to get to debate” May. They are sitting at a “roundish” table, so described by Peter Mansbridge, so it is officially “roundish.” Canada: the country where approximating language is not only traditional but mandated.
Minute two: Steve Paikin of TVO is your moderator, and then we can go back to not bothering to pretend to care about TVO.
Minute three: Vince from Alberta wants to know: how are you going to protect the economy? May: national investment, keep Canadian companies Canadian, et cetera. Dion: da Libruls have da official plan what I release yestaday dat will keep da Canadian economy afloat and protect your savings and your pension-es. Harper: Don’t panic. Dion, you panicked. You’re a pussy and your platform sucks. Layton: Effective regulations of the financial sector ASAP, national investment in real Canadians (rather than fake ones). Duceppe: Stephen Harper is like George Bush. (Stephen Harper gives Duceppe his dead-eyed death-stare, or, as we call it here in Canada, “his normal face.”)
Minute seven: Open discussion period of the question. Dion is offended by Harper claiming it’s a “panic.” Harper smirks. Harper points out that Canadian fiscal and financial policy are different from America’s, and that the government is running a surplus, not a deficit. (Well, for now we are.) May complains that Harper asked for additional debate time on the economy and that all Harper’s done is say “nothing’s wrong,” then boosts a carbon tax. Layton attacks Harper on corporate tax cuts, then says Harper is out of touch, and concludes with “either you don’t care, or you’re incompetent.” (Ah, Canadian politics, where being polite is for pussies.) Harper counters that of their last tax cut package, three-quarters went to families, and then says families aren’t worried about taxes, but about their investments. Duceppe busts in that Canada needs tax credits for research and development very badly. Dion comes back pointing out that the Harper government has overseen a productivity drop, a drop in economic growth, and then mocks Jim Flaherty for saying “don’t invest in Ontario” on the basis that that was retarded.
Harper argues that net job creation is up and that raising taxes is a bad idea. May says Harper is out of touch for saying that people aren’t worried about losing their homes, then attacks Harper’s tax package for not cutting income taxes. Layton calls Harper “cold and callous” and then points out that Canadian manufacturing is collapsing. Stephen Harper stares daggers at him and his smirk vanishes. Harper continues to plead that at least we don’t have a subprime mortgage meltdown. Dion points out that Paul Martin and Jean Chretien are directly responsible for the regulations on Canadian banks which largely kept them from doing what has fucked half of the banks in the world (which is mostly true). Duceppe mispronounces “sustainable development” and then says that Harper’s Tories are being irresponsible for not adhering to the Kyoto Protocol and creating the next-gen green economy Canada needs. Harper brags about tax-free savings accounts, which are nothing but tiny sops that benefit rich people more than poor.
May points out that unemployment insurance is disappearing, and that the new jobs Harper’s creating are mostly shitty service-sector jobs, and cites the OECD report on Canada’s economy. Layton says May is right, then adds that Canadian families are working 190 hours per month more than they used to “just to make ends meet.” Duceppe points out that income tax reductions for manufacturing companies are useless when said companies are losing money, and demands, yes, DEMANDS reimbursable tax credits. Harper talks about where he’s directed the government to invest money. Dion argues for centrism, IE, the Liberal party, which will “invest in the infrastructure” while remaining fiscally solvent. Layton complains that Dion wants to have corporate tax cuts and that Dion kept Harper in power for way too long, then says that corporate tax cuts cannot be the lynchpin of a new fiscal strategy. Dion responds that the Liberal Green Shift plan is mathematically sound and has a three billion dollar “buffer,” which is who the fuck knows what, really.
Minute twenty-two: Steve Paikin: are the manufacturing jobs we’ve lost gone forever? Harper: they are, but we can replace them with new, emerging manufacturing jobs, and we can’t guarantee that certain jobs will remain forever. Duceppe asks yet again why emergent manufacturing jobs aren’t getting reimbursable tax credits to help them out in the beginning. May: we need jobs all across the country, and not just in Alberta and Saskatchewan excavating the tar sands. Coast Guard vessels should be manufactured in Canada. Layton: we shouldn’t be sending off raw timber to other countries – we can make stuff with wood right here. We should have been making green cars but Harper (and Paul Martin before him) didn’t invest in the sector. Harper’s corporate tax cuts benefit banks and oil companies. Dion says the manufacturing sector is vitally important to maintain Canada’s economy in the longterm and not to rely on resource exploitation, then attacks Jim Flaherty again.
Harper again says that Canada is not in the same situation as the United States and that the Tories are investing in important national industries. Paikin jumps in and asks Harper if his policies are working. Harper says there is a slowdown, but it’s not a recession. Duceppe jokes that the only party promoting a “Buy Canadian” act for government is the Bloc Quebecois, which is indeed amusing. Jack Layton says that’s a good idea and the New Democrats support it, then complains about bad trade deals which are eroding manufacturing jobs and that the Tories don’t have a good replacement strategy. May also supports the Buy Canadian policy for the government and attacks Harper for a “profound structural shift” about which she does not elaborate upon.
Dion says something about investment and energy efficiency which is mostly meaningless. Harper tries to say something and everybody jumps down his throat. (American readers may be wondering where all the jokes are, but jeez is it hard to make jokes with a high degree of substantive discussion.) Layton complains that the Tories haven’t presented an economic plan yet at all, and cracks that Harper must be hiding it under his sweater. Steve Paikin asks if people are willing to go into deficit to stimulate the economy in case of a recession. Harper: won’t be necessary. May: hopes not, and Harper, you’re an asshole. Dion: something something something pollution tax. Layton: the NDP balances budgets better than anybody else, just ask the Department of Finance. Duceppe: like it matters what I say, I’ll never be in charge of the country anyway.
Minute thirty-three: Manfred from Toronto: how do you reconcile environmental protection with economic growth? Dion: fossil fuels are just going to get more expensive, so the Liberals plan to shift taxation to fossil fuels and pollution to create instant market incentives to be clean and green, and if you’re clean you save money. Harper: it’s a tax increase, and you have to be honest and admit that environmental improvements will cost money, and our emissions plan is better than other parties’ plans. Layton: the Tories aren’t going to do shit and Harper is full of crap about his plan, and we need strict emissions limits, the government revenues from which need to reinvested in green economic initiatives. Duceppe: apply Kyoto, have absolute targets rather than “intensity” targets like the Tories have, which allow one to declare success while still increasing overall emissions, and the tar sands have to pay up. May: the climate crisis represents the single biggest economic opportunity in history, and it’s stupid to pretend that polluting is free, because it isn’t.
Open discussion! Paikin asks Harper about the tax cuts in the Liberal plan. Harper says the carbon taxes are twice as much as the income tax reductions. Dion flat-out calls him a liar, and says that countries which have adopted carbon taxes do better than those without. May agrees with the idea of carbon taxation and says her plan is more ambitious than Dion’s, which means nobody will vote for it. Duceppe says – fuck, do I really have to keep pretending that Duceppe is anything other than a generator of “gotcha” questions in the English language debate? Although it is amusing hearing him totally mangle the words “sustainable development.”
Harper blathers about hard targets and soft targets for carbon emissions, full of sound and fury, signifiying nothing. Well, not so much “fury.” Layton, on the other hand, has lots of fury, and again links Harper to George W. Bush, then mocks him for intensity-based targets, explaining why the concept is bullshit. Dion emphasizes how important the climate change crisis is, and states firmly that if the changes have to be made immediately to maximize economic benefit. Harper responds by saying the Tories have a plan for the tar sands. May attacks Harper for ignoring Kyoto, and the Tories in general for being useless at the Bali conference, then points out that municipalities and provinces are trying to have climate strategies without the federal government because Harper is a limpdick. Duceppe explains in funny broken Franglais why intensity targets are crap, May nodding emphatically all the while. Layton’s moustache quivers with indignity! Dion talks more about how the Green Shift drops taxes for poorer Canadians. Harper responds by talking about how he’s protecting land near cities and have expanded the parks system. PARKS! May outright calls him a fraud.
Minute forty-seven: Candace from Montreal wants to know about healthcare, and how will these people alleviate the doctor shortage in Canada?
Layton: the NDP will increase by 50% the number of doctors training in Canada, and will forgive their student debts if they commit to ten years in family medicine, unlike the Tories, who gave out a corporate tax cut and told the provinces to go pound sand. Duceppe: it’s a provincial responsibility, but the feds can’t help sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong, and also Aboriginal health conditions are a joke. May: budget-cutting in the 90s hurt the healthcare system in the long run, and only additional reinvestment can handle the issue. Dion: it’s even more important because a lot of our doctoral population is aging, and the feds have to take action to make sure we can handle this, presumably by chaining them to their offices. Harper: May is right! the Liberals cut your healthcare funding! It was all their fault! We’ve been working with the provinces! And so forth.
ROUNDISH TABLE TIME! Layton points out the Tories were asking for more cuts when the Liberals were cutting, and that Harper himself led a citizens’ group that wanted to privatize healthcare, and the NDP is for public healthcare and Tommy Douglas Tommy Douglas TOMMY MOTHERFUCKING DOUGLAS. Harper attacks Layton for using a private clinic at one point, his eyes saying “I will rape your flesh and wear it for a hat.” Layton says “fuck you” as nicely as possible. Harper says “fuck you” back then talks about some of the money they’ve spent. Dion says that the 90s were necessary and that the Tories broke their promises about waiting lists. May: there are international pressures to cut down our public healthcare system. (Harper smirks like an asshole.) May paints a picture of hungry American businesses trying to move in and attack healthcare, and follows Layton’s lead by pointing out that Harper used to be a pay-for-pray rightie extremist. (Who had dead eyes, like a hitman.)
Duceppe says… I’m honestly not sure, and it had nothing to do with his accent. He moves his hands a lot, though, so maybe it’s important. Dion complains about private medication costs being in the t’ousands and t’ousands of dollahs and promises public funding for catastrophic-need drugs. Layton points out the need for better Aboriginal care, for more family doctors, and then says Dion and Harper are both useless twats and the NDP is the way to go and did he mention how corporate taxes suck?
Minute fifty-nine: Dale Anne from Saskatchewan asks about arts funding! Ha, and Karen Whaley said she didn’t want to liveblog this debate! WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, WHALEY?
Duceppe predictably is angry at Harper for cutting arts funding. May likes arts funding and thinks it’s important and that it can make money, but it’s more than just a profit centre, it’s about being Canadian. Dion likes art because “it’s fun” (hokey, but effective), and because it can make more money through tax receipts than is spent by the government itself, and because it’s our identity. Harper “enjoys the arts immensely,” rubbing his hands as he imagines strangling a small puppy to the strains of Ravel’s “Bolero.” Harper then talks about a child tax credit, which parents could presumably spend on arts education! (If they aren’t spending it on food.) Layton rightly mocks the shit out of Harper for this utterly stupid idea, pointing out that artists are poor as shit.
Steve Paikin wants to know if the other four leaders think Tories are barbarians. Dion says he thinks Harper considers artists “enemies,” and Harper shouldn’t do that, and that Harper’s personal tastes shouldn’t dictate arts funding. Duceppe slams Jim Flaherty, who is definitely providing a lot of fodder for everybody tonight, saying that Flaherty made it clear the arts funding cuts were ideological. Harper says that the arts and culture budget has increased. May says she doesn’t think Harper hates the arts, but she thinks he uses the government to increase his own political power wherever possible, and that artistic funding cuts are part of that strategy.
Layton accuses Harper of censorship of his cultural opponents. Harper demands an example, and May butts in naming names. Dion says it is “clear” that there have been ideological cuts and promises to restore artistic tax cuts and funds. Harper again talks about how much more money they’re spending, and how the government “evaluates” programs, which just sounds… creepy. Layton points out that other countries invest in cultural spending because it generates jobs, and then again says Harper would rather give the money to banks.
Minute seventy-one: Sameer from Markham wants to know about violent crime. It’s getting worse, you know! What are you going to do about it?
May: You’re wrong, Sameer from Markham – the violent crime rate hasn’t gone up. That having been said, bail conditions for violent offenders need to be stricter, and we need to ban handguns and semiautomatics, and a cheaper system for regulating hunting rifles. Dion: Treatment model – fix the problems before they become violent crimes. Harper: Well, there are some increases, in gang violence for example, and youth violence repeat offenders, and we’re going to do things about that. (Harper, incidentally, barely looks at the camera when addressing it. It is downright weird.) Layton: we need to ban handguns and semi-autos, and we need treatment and youth programs, and Harper promised youth programs which never showed up so he’s promising it again. Duceppe: punishing young offenders doesn’t work, and we need anti-gun laws, and tougher measures for armed criminals, and victims’ rights.
May: we need to invest in literacy programs, because they’ve been proven to reduce crime rates and criminal activity in youth, and the Tories cut it. Harper: the program didn’t work, and we cut programs that don’t work. Layton complains that Harper’s cuts are just political gamesmanship, and promises a family credit for children’s education programs. Dion says he trusts judges and Harper doesn’t, because Harper wants zero tolerance laws, and that’s idiotic. Harper responds by saying he just wants to give judges the option to give harsh, draconian sentences, and what’s so wrong about that? And house arrests don’t work for young offenders. Duceppe links Harper’s governing philosophy in criminal law to the United States. May points out that longer sentences don’t reduce the crime rate and just end up being more expensive to the state, and that treating young offenders as adults is ridiculous.
Layton mentions that the crime rate among Aboriginals is sky-high because native reservations have the shittiest status around and it’s a national disgrace, and that an apology isn’t enough. Harper says he could talk about that, but he’s not going to, and that violent criminals get off too easy in Canada and it’s time to do something about it, gosh darnit. Dion says sure, let’s do something, but not adopting American judicial models, and then gets into a fight with Layton about Liberal responsibility for Aboriginal policy failures. Layton: “if you’re not going to be the leader of the opposition, I don’t know why you’re running for Prime Minister.” BURN.
Minute eighty-four: Barmak from Kitchener wants to know about Afghanistan. Should we stay there until 2011, or later, or earlier, or what?
Harper, unsurprisingly, likes Afghanistan and what we’re doing there. Layton: we’ve always been against Afghanistan, but we love our soldiers, nay, because we love our soldiers, and we should engage in a comprehensive peace process. Duceppe: us too. May: Afghanistan is where armies go to get their asses handed to them, and we need the United Nations to take over. (What?) Dion: I love me some soldiers and if anybody says different I will beat them to death with a crowbar, and as for Afghanistan, we should stay until 2011.
Harper: we can’t pacify Afghanistan by ourselves, we need the Afghanis to do pitch in, it’s a United Nations mission already. Layton argues that Harper can’t be trusted and that his philosophies come straight from the Bush neocon wing, and you can’t trust Dion either because he changes his mind. Dion: I never broke my word, I agreed to stay longer because leaving Afghanistan without preparing them would be disastrous, and we are so out of there in 2011. Harper points out that Obama wants to increase troop counts in Afghanistan, all you lefties, so what do you say to that? May knocks Harper for having wanted to go into Iraq, then says it has to be a United Nations mission because if it’s an American one the mission is screwed, and points out that too much foreign aid goes to Afghanistan now. Dion: Harper Bush Harper Bush Harper Bush Harper Bush Bush Bush Harper Bush. Harper: Not Bush! Not not not not not Bush! (Yes, it is really getting that bad that fast, folks. Come on, we had ninety minutes almost of substantive debate, it had to collapse sometime.)
Minute ninety-six: Dennis in Toronto: he’s a retiree, and he wants to know what the first thing each of them would do as PM, and no bullfeathers, either!
Layton: remove the corporate tax cut and replace it with infrastructure investment and job creation and stuff like. Duceppe: I’m not gonna be Prime Minister, and nobody else but Harper is gonna be either, so I’ll just make sure to keep pushing Harper to help the manufacturing sector and seniors and lots of other people. May: we have to fix our electoral system to bring proportional representation to Parliament, and we need to deal with carbon emissions yesterday and eighty percent of Canadians agree with me. Dion: I’m going to deal with the economic crisis that’s coming even if Harper says it isn’t coming. Harper: More tax cuts.
OPEN ROUNDISH TABLE! Layton attacks Harper – again – about the corporate tax cuts, and then points out that Harper is fundamentally crap at working with provincial leaders, and so is Dion. Dion says if he’s elected he’s got a mandate from the Canadian people, not that this is going to happen but hey. He also talks up the Green Shift again. May pushes the Green Shift concept and says it’s exactly what we need to do right now for all the usual reasons, then argues for income tax splitting in marriages. Harper says that they eliminated the marriage penalty, which is not exactly the same thing at all but it sounds kind of the same, then says they’ll bring in income splitting for couples acting as caregivers for non-kids (IE, parents and elderly types). Harper says he will never, ever raise taxes, which is exactly the type of flexibility a leader needs. Duceppe asks for national securities regulation common across the provinces; Harper says he’d like that, but it’s not going to happen any time soon. Dion says “hey, remember how Harper screwed you on income trusts? Think about that when he complains about the Green Shift.” Harper responds by saying that it was necessary and they compensated by offering income splitting for pensioners.
Minute one hundred seven: Aimee from Halifax hasn’t voted in the last couple of elections, so how can she trust any of you assholes?
Duceppe: Just look at it this way: Harper lies like a rug, so there you go. May says she used to be a lawyer and now a politician and feels loathed, and it’s because politicians break promises, so ignore party and vote on the issues, and be more engaged, because you deserve better than what you get. Dion: you, young lady in Halifax, you’re wrong. There are concrete differences between the Tories and the Liberals. For example, the Liberals are nice, and the Tories hunt the endangered condor for sport. Harper: I am pro-condor and have always been pro-condor. Look at our platform. (May: “where IS it?”) Layton: Harper doesn’t have a platform, he has a sweater. And we’ve had the Tories and Liberals in power forever, one or the other, so if you’re sick of the same old same old, vote the NDP into power and guess what, we’ll fuck up in all sorts of new ways.
And then they talked some more but my wireless connection on my laptop died, so fuck it, there was only five minutes left anyway and they were mostly done.
Bottom line: Harper needed a strong performance to rebound from the French language debate and this was definitely not it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. I don’t think he’s getting his majority.