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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Thoughts on the Winnipeg forum

I guess I'll add my voice to the growing chorus of opinions on this issue...

First off, I thought the format itself was..well, bad. Way too much time was given to the candidates to express their views on each question. By the end, it seemed as though everyone was saying the same thing. I mean, come on, we're all Liberals. From a macro standpoint, we all basically agree on the "big picture," be it universal health care, more help for immigrants, a strong economy, equality of opportunity for all, yadda yadda yadda. Most important are the small differences in policy or vision. In my opinioin, these nuances can only be demonstrated effectively in a "real debate" format, where the candidates actually get to engage one another and challenge each other's perspectives.

Thus, I found the final half hour to be most revealing. I particularly liked the first match (Volpe, Bevilacqua and Kennedy squaring-off over health care). Kennedy was clearly on the defensive, with Volpe and Bevilacqua tag-teaming him over Ontario's spending levels for seniors' care. Gerard handled himself extremely well and gave as good as he got. Overall, I found Kennedy to be far more articulate and compelling in Winnipeg than he was at LPCO last month in Toronto. My opinion of him has certainly improved. He seems to be maturing as a candidate, with deeper and more thoughtful answers and a greater sense of confidence. He's remains somewhat weak on certain issues -- foreign affairs is one of them -- which makes me wonder if he's ready for prime time against Harper.

The sleeper candidate in this race has got to be Ken Dryden. And no, I'm not talking about his speaking style, which, while improving, still has a drowsy effect on me at times. I'm talking about his obvious passion for Canada. His opening statement was by far the best of the bunch. I really, really, REALLY liked the "write 'em off" refrain he used with reference to Harper's plan for a majority government. If I were a betting man, I'd bet Mr. Dryden is quickly becoming a lot of people's second or third ballot choice. Not a bad place to be in a leadership race that seems to be less sprint and more marathon....

Brison demonstrated why he should not be counted out, despite the income trust thing. Clearly the most policy-oriented contender, he presents as young, bold and innovative when discussing virtually any issue. It was interesting to see him "debate" Ignatieff. What you saw were two intellectual heavyweights discussing foreign policy and the environment. They were both very polite to one another and took pains not to step on each other's toes, but it was an insightful discussion nonetheless. At one point, Ignatieff motionned to Brison when referring to the questioner's statement on something "intergenerational" (I can't really remember the context). This spoke volumes, in my opinion. First, it reminded the audience that Brison is the youngest candidate in the field. More importantly, it highlighted the fact that despite not yet being forty, Brison looks and sounds as substantive as Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae, with all of their international experience. I find Brison's outlook on Canada and the world very refreshing. He's definitely in my top three.

Nobody seemed to nail the slam dunk knock-out punch we so often expect. The closest thing was probably Martha Hall-Findlay's comeback to Scott Brison's comment about the New York Times and Afghanistan. You could almost hear a collective "Damn Scotty! You got burned!" reaction from the audience. I know that's what I was thinking. Notwithstanding my positive opinion towards Scott, I disagree stongly with his view on this issue. I think his rationale is ridiculous, and I'm glad Martha called him on it.

Other than that, I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said by others. I'm disappointed my guy Bob Rae didn't get to debate Michael Ignatieff one-on-one. What a matchup that would have been! I know a lot of people were anticipating such a debate, and with the two sitting next to each other, the expectation grew on my part. The media seems to be hyping the "Rae v. Ignatieff" angle, highlighting their decades-old rivalry and positioning both as frontrunners in this race. I think Ignatieff is clearly the frontrunner -- just look at Volpe's stinging attack on him early on. However, I'm not sure I would characterize Bob Rae as a frontrunner just yet. He is coming on strong, and seems to be attracting more and more organizational support by the day (and I'm not just talking about the Cotler and Dosanjh endorsements). Things seem to be looking up, but we'll see where we are in a few weeks...