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Short strokes

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I take it back. This week’s federal leaders’ debates were far more interesting, informative and, yes, even entertaining than I’d expected.

That was thanks, in no small measure, to the presence of Green Party leader Elizabeth May—thank you, Canadians!—who seized the opportunity to make it clear her party was about more than just the environment. And that she knew her stuff on a wide range of issues.

Her jabs at Stephen Harper were the most pointed and effective of any leader. Best of all, there was a twinkle in her eye as she did it; she was having fun!

Perhaps her finest moment came after the debate itself ended and the TV camera had retreated to a wide shot for the traditional, insincere post-debate handshakes. May one-upped them all by proceeding to exchange cheek kisses with each leader. With Layton, with Dion, with Duceppe and finally… with Harper. Though you couldn’t see his face, Harper’s body language said it all—and more!

Since none of the leaders stumbled and all played well to their own supporters, it’s unlikely the debate will change many minds. But the minds it does change could be crucial to the outcome.

The after-the-fact polls suggest Dion won Wednesday night’s French-language debate and, while he was less front-and-centre in the English debate last night, his respectable performance helped undermine the stumbling, not-ready-for-prime-time image the Tories have tried to create for him with their insistent, persistent attack ads. Will it be enough to sway wavering Liberals to keep the party in contention?

May’s performance, meanwhile, will certainly win her party some converts—maybe even its first elected MP. But where will those new Green votes come from? The Liberals? The NDP? And how will that affect some of the already tight electoral contests, especially out west? Could Elizabeth May’s success ultimately help Stephen Harper elect more Tories? Maybe win a majority?

Stay tuned.

***

One of my conspiratorially-minded friends has suggested a much more intriguing—and plausible—scenario to explain Stephen Harper’s plagiarized 2003 me-too speech in parliament supporting a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Harper cribbed half of that speech, virtually cheerleading word-for-cheerleading-word from a speech Australian prime minister John Howard had delivered two days earlier.

An “overzealous” Harper speech writer fell on his pen this week, accepted responsibility for the clumsy cut-and-paste job and resigned. End of story.

“But what if,” asks my friend, “Harper wasn’t copying from Howard? What if they were both using a speech written for them by the Americans?”

Howard’s government supported the American invasion and had close ties to U.S. administration officials. Harper, the opposition leader in a country where the government of the day opposed the American misadventure in Iraq, would have been eager to show his American friends he too was part of the coalition of the willing.

What if…?

Turns out my friend isn’t the only one with a conspiratorial bent.

John Kunkel, who wrote Howard’s speeches from 2004-07, told the Associated Press any suggestion a Bush administration official penned the speech and then distributed it to conservative allies “sounds incredibly far-fetched and somewhat fanciful.”

But he also says Howard didn’t have a speechwriter in 2003 and relied on advisors to provide input into his usually off-the-cuff remarks. Where better to find advice for such a speech than inside the Bush administration? The same Bush administration that was also desperately trying to get its let’s-all-go-to-war message out to Canadians…

Just wondering.

***

“I have a complaint to pick with you.”

That is rarely ever a good start to a conversation, even less so when you’re standing side-by-side with the complainer at the urinals and immediate escape seems not only impossible but unwise.

My complainer had been reading my Coast blog and, while he agreed with much of what I had to say, he wasn’t happy with my lack of acknowledgement of the Green Party’s local candidate.

“There are four candidates, you realize, not just three.” (Actually, there are five. There’s also Tony Seed, the perpetual Marxist-Leninist candidate, but that’s another story.)

I did my best to placate him. “I interviewed Darryl Whetter the other day,” I said, “and I’m planning to do a profile of him next week.”

He looked puzzled.

“Darryl Whetter,” I said. “The Green Party candidate.”

“Oh, that’s his name.” My complainer actually had a Green Party sign on his lawn but—given the party’s eco-friendly theme and lack of resources—the sign is generic so the candidate’s name doesn’t appear on it.

Which is why he didn’t know it.

All of which only goes to make his case that I—and the rest of the media—have been paying the Greens way too little attention in this race.

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