Monday, May 08, 2006

Liberal Leadership Debate

On Friday, May 5, all the Liberal party leadership candidates were included in a debate at the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) Annual General Meeting. The format had every candidate make a 3-minute opening statement, followed by two sets of questions that they all had the opportunity to answer, followed by brief closing statements. I'll lump together all four of the speaking opportunities for each candidate. I'm pretty critical, but I think at this stage of the game it's good to point out problems that might become obstacles in a federal election, and that in most cases can be corrected.

Scott Brison
He spoke well. He started with a good speech attacking Harper. In his response to the first questions, he reeled off some related issues without really explaining them or making a case for them. But in the second set of questions, he neatly tied the issues (foreign aid, education, and Kyoto) together, saying, "Our comparative advantage as a country is that we're a leader in energy. So we can become a leader in clean energy technologies, and then help China leapfrog over dirty technology. We can be a global innovator and make a lot of money." My problem with this is that lots of other countries have already become leaders in environmental technology and we're way behind; this was more a statement for 10 or 20 years ago.

Maurizio Bevilacqua
In his opening remarks, I found his speaking style bombastic and I was somewhat put off. In his response to the first set of questions, all I wrote in my notes was, "He went on and on. Did he say anything?" However, during his final question-answering turn he got up and walked to the front of the stage and really seemed to connect with the audience. That was very good. However, he'd sort of lost me by that point so I didn't take any notes on what he said.

St├ęphane Dion
He has a very strong accent and his English isn't great. I only understood about 75% of what he said. His English is way worse than Chretien's.

He spoke with passion, but sometimes he didn't seem to be making sense. For example, in his opening remarks he said he supports Wilfrid Laurier's two pillars of Liberalism, economic growth and social justice, but says we need to add a third pillar, the environment. Then he went on about his "three pillars vision of Canada." The second set of questions were about Kyoto, foreign aid and education. He started his answer by copying Rae, saying "If we see these questions as disjoint, we will fail in the 21st century. We need the three pillars approach..." and then he talked about economic growth, social justice and the environment, totally dropping foreign aid and education.

He started his opening remarks by saying that Canada needs to be as great in the 21st century as we were in the 20th century. I found this an odd stand to take in a 3 minute prepared statement.

But in the first set of questions he was really effective in presenting himself as experienced and capable. Responding to a question about demonstrated leadership qualities, he said, "When Mr. Chretien asked me to deliver for unity I delivered for unity. When Mr. Martin asked me to deliver for Kyoto I brought the world together..."

The audience really liked Dion's speech. I was left cold because I couldn't understand lots of what he was saying and parts of what I could understand didn't make sense.

Martha Hall Finlay
Her delivery was very good. I felt that her opening remarks lacked content. She talked about attitude and leadership and said "it's time to be inspired." She complained about her short amount of time twice---thus wasting her short amount of time! I heard people in the audience grumbling about this. In response to a question about her experience for leadership, I thought her answer about being a mother sounded lame - but it didn't need to. I found myself liking her, although I can't think of anything she said that's of interest.

Hedy Fry
She's a good political speaker - feisty and fun. She started with a weird statement: "Canada is a nation that still has to meet its inherent dignity." But she went on with some crowd-pleasers. She said our secret weapon is our "weapon of mass inclusion". Later she said that we have to have the guts to stand up on the global stage and deal with global warming. She ended her opening remarks by declaring, "I defeated the last Tory Prime Minister!" (That would be Kim Campbell.)

Gerard Kennedy
He was lackluster both in content and delivery. His opening remarks were not great and focused on food bank-type issues, but he got a big response when he said, "Don't let Stephen Harper do to Canada what Mike Harris did to Ontario!" During his response to questions, he also focused on food bank-type issues.

He was writing notes to himself on a folded-up piece of paper and was also holding a water bottle. When he talked he also had to hold a microphone and I got a bit distracted worrying about whether he'd drop the water bottle. He also doesn't enunciate well and swallows some of his words. He came off as inexperienced and unprepared. His French was poor. Everyone I talked to at the convention said that they were disappointed in his performance.

Carolyn Bennett
Her opening remarks were more focused than the last time I saw her speak. She really only addressed one issue, which was about including more people in government and decision-making. Referring to the Chretien/Martin era she said, "What we did was a spectacular record of achievement but how we did it was a disaster." I thought her main idea was a bit confused. She said her goal was to create democracy between elections (great point) but what she seemed to advocate was direct democracy, not more inclusive democracy. In the response to questions she also mostly talked about the direct democracy idea, but she got off on some odd tangents like the taste of the first strawberry in June and her MSN chats.

She talks too quietly and she stumbles over her words somewhat. At one point she went on long after being asked to stop and finally was cut off, which was a downer.

Michael Ignatieff
Ignatieff sounded very intelligent and knowledgeable. I'm a big Ignatieff fan and am always glad of the chance to hear what he has to say. He had a polished political (rather than academic) prepared speech that was quite good, with comments like, "I'm tired of getting into taxi cabs and talking to people who have as many degrees as I do; I want them out of the cab and into the lab" and "We have to be the party that looks over the hill for the jobs of tomorrow." On the environment question, he had a first-rate response, talking about working with the energy sector, increasing carbon sequestration, and championing clean coal technologies. I was also glad to hear him standing up for the record of the Chretien/Martin governments on agricultural policy (it would be easy for him to try to divorce himself from their record). In response to the question on leadership skills, he also had a strong reply: "International experience [which he has tons of] matters... especially against a Prime Minister who barely seems to have been anywhere."

His delivery needs work. He pumped his fists and wagged his finger; it seemed stagey and odd. Although I think he's someone worth listening to, I found his comments a little bit insincere; maybe he feels he's dumbing down his ideas and that makes him awkward.

Bob Rae
Passionate, smart. He used his opening remarks not just to sell himself but to sell some ideas that he obviously believes in strongly. He talked about Kelowna: "The Prime Minister, provincial ministers and aboriginals signed a government-to-government accord. This last week the Prime Minister of Canada said that he did not feel himself to be bound by this accord... it was Premier Campbell in BC who said, When the crown makes a promise the crown should keep the promise!" He said that last week's budget was a focus group budget. He dealt with the need to be prepared for the coming election and declared, "The election starts now!" (I wrote in my notes: Barn burner of a speech! Great speaker! Best of the bunch!")

In response to the question about agriculture, he showed his deep understanding of Canada-US trade issues, and said that the US has the most highly subsidized farming sector in the world, followed by the EU. In response to Harper's strategy, he said "the federal government can't be a cheque-clearing house for the provinces. The federal government has to lead." He also mentioned leadership when he said that leading on Kyoto will not be easy and requires leadership.

He said a few things that other candidates repeated after him: "The election starts now", "None of the people on this platform are my opponents" and an insightful comment about the second set of questions (which were about Kyoto, foreign aid, and education) that all three questions have the same assumptions.

Some other delegates I talked to thought Rae was most effective at the end of his opening remarks, when he got into fist-thumping mode, but I was most taken with the beginning of them, when he evidenced a passionate vision of Canada. His was the only performance that I thought could demolish Stephen Harper and win over the country. I had had an open mind about who should be leader up until this debate; this tipped me over to Rae.

Joe Volpe
Joe Volpe seemed to be suffering from laryngitis or voice strain. For his opening remarks, I'm afraid that I was so excited by Bob's performance right before him that I didn't really listen. In his response to the questions, I found his responses a bit disjointed and lame. For example, re foreign aid he said, "To be truly a world leader our foreign policy must reflect the interests of people... Currently we focus on women, clean water, and health. That's what we need to do." I would suggest that he needs to work on the issues. However, other than not having much voice his delivery was good.

Ken Dryden
He started off by saying, "I have three minutes of things to say and I don't talk very fast." This got a big laugh and from then on the audience was on his side. His opening remarks were great. He said, "The campaign began January 24 and will end about a year from now and we have to win. Losing stinks!" He said we have to win for childcare, aboriginal issues, the environment, and added, "If I was Jack Layton, wouldn't I feel a little squeamy today."

When he responded to questions about child care and education, he had dynamic and intelligent things to say. But for foreign aid he said that Canada is the first truly global country and repeated that a few times. I heard other delegates also puzzling over this one later. I'm guessing he meant that we have a lot of immigrants. (So do lots of other countries.) In the context it didn't make much sense to me.

My complaint about Ken is that he was too low-key for a debate. Also, his mouth was dry and he made a little sticky noise with his lips that I found kind of gross. But he was funny and intelligent and was a hit with the whole audience, as well as with me.
Everyone in the room probably had a different take on the debate. Here are some bloggers who differ from me:
Liberal Leadership Odds
A BCer in Toronto
Cherniak on Politics
All Things Political



Anonymous said...

You are entitled to you opinion but I cannot agree with you on Kennedy. He had the flu and I didn't think his French was bad at all.
?Rae supporter right. I guess you are not looking for any strategic 2nd or 3rd ballot support, huh?

Anonymous said...

Kennedy "had the flu" what a lame excuse. Next debate it'll be that his dog ate his speech!

Anonymous said...

Kennedy is a huge bore, sick or not!

Eddie said...

Hi there, just wandering the blogosphere and I found your blog. I really enjoy how this all works.

This is one to watch.

Many thanks,

bird binoculars

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

Ignatieff's argument in favour of the extension in Afghanistan were pathetic: a clumsy attempt to wrap himself in a sentimental flag and win over doubters with that kind of argument.

Ignatieff dealt with Harper's cunning and abusive Afghanistan debate in the same way that John Kerry dealt with Bush's rush to war in Iraq. It will haunt him for this leadership campaign.

But his policies are more flawed than just one lapse in one debate. Ignatieff's "centre of gravity" as a politician lies in the USA, not Canada.

That is what the audience at the debate and Liberals throughout the country are concerned about. Why elect a man who is more American than Canadian, to run Canada? Aren't Canadians good enough to run their own country?

Ignatieff will not win the leadership of the Liberal Party.