Over to you
This blog has been silent through the televised leaders' debates -- deliberately.
It seems to me that the best thing that pundits -- or the "commentariat," as Jack Layton described our business the other night -- is get out of the way while voters are having a chance to see what we see every day. My friend Kady O'Malley alluded to this on CBC Radio's The Current yesterday morning too: you need fresh eyes to judge what fresh eyes are seeing in Canadian politics. What's old to us is new to you.
And as I was watching all the so-called expert pronouncements on the debate performances all over the TV and internet , I was reminded of the Olympics. You know that moment when judges register all those marks that show tiny percentage differences in the judging? When you're wondering: what are the criteria? What are they measuring? What's with the Russian (or insert mysterious markers) judges? Did someone pay someone off? Similarly, I've seen some earnest explanations on TV of how all this debate strategy was complicated -- you had to understand, when someone said this, they meant this, and it fit/didn't fit with... well, you get the idea.
What I've seen, over the past few years, is that the non-political-junkie citizens of Canada keep defying all the conventional wisdom and instant judgments of the chattering class here. Yes, I mean the folks who said that Stephen Harper would never be prime minister or that Rob Ford would never be the mayor of Toronto or the folks who keep saying that Michael Ignatieff will have to go back to Harvard after the next election because Harper's got a majority in his grasp. Oh yes, and that Julian Fantino would win by 10,000 votes in the November by-election in Vaughan. (It was less than 1,000).
Example: Apparently (I wasn't in the Government Conference Centre), folks were mocking Ignatieff at the debates last night for imagining that he knew what a certain Mme. Paille was experiencing in her life. (Mme. Paille being one of the questioners in the French debate.) Turns out Mme. Paille did actually think he was on the mark. This has been a recurring theme in Ignatieff's career in politics, it seems -- turning around Trudeau's famous phrase. Here in Ottawa, Ignatieff is too often written off a nobody, or worse. Same thing for Jack Layton, who, if you'll remember, was supposed to be too sick or frail to conduct a campaign, according to conventional wisdom of early March. As I noted on Twitter last night, I hope that if I ever have to have a hip operation, that I'm well enough within a month or a little more to spend two hours, two consecutive nights, battling my enemies standing up on a stage in front of a national TV audience. Frankly, I'm in good health and couldn't do it now.
Several yards away from Parliament Hill, like Stephen Harper, circa 2001-05, people take these leaders seriously. I saw it all last summer when I decided to go out and quietly watch how Ignatieff was received aboard his Liberal Express bus tour. So did other reporters, who were less surprised than others about Ignatieff's first couple of solid weeks in this campaign.
So that is all my way of saying that I don't intend to pronounce on the debates or tell people what to think about what they saw. And for god's sake, don't take your cue from the pollsters. It's your turn. These leaders deserve to be taken seriously, through the unfiltered gaze of the public they're supposed to serve. So it's over to you.