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Leaders' Debate Analysis -
January 9, 2005

CBC.ca's Reality Check Team - Ira Basen, John Gray, Carolyn Ryan and Robert Sheppard � post their thoughts on the debate as it unfolds, Monday, Jan. 9, 2006.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe. Liberal Leader Paul Martin and NDP Leader Jack Layton, left to right, reach out to shake hands at the English leaders' debate, Jan. 9, 2005 in Montreal.. (CP photo)

VIDEO: English-language leader's debate (Jan. 9, 2006 - runs 1:58:54)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Jack Layton, Liberal Leader Paul Martin and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe square off for the second of two English-language debates.

10:09 p.m. EST

It has been a busy night for reality checking. A sense of unreality hung over much of this debate. The longer the campaign goes on, the more the parties reveal of their platform, the more latitude they seem to have for misrepresenting their own positions and those of their opponents. Martin probably set a record for use of a single word during a debate. Can we all say "values"? Duceppe seemed energized by the "Option Canada scandal". He spent his entire closing statement talking about it. Here's something to think about over the next few days. An Environics poll taken shortly after the debate in 2000 revealed that 52% of people surveyed who had an opinion about who won the debate, hadn't actually seen it. And how about we all vow to deliver a knockout punch to the first commentator who uses the phrase "knockout punch" in post-debate analysis. (Whoops, Terry Milewski on CBC just used it. Maybe someone else beat him to it.) —IB
10:09 p.m. EST

The fragile atmosphere of the final words on national unity continue when the four leaders wind up the evening. Paul Martin talks earnestly of values, pinning much of his election appeal on the acceptance of his government's child-care program. It's a difficult appeal because the Liberals have been promising a child-care program for a dozen years but it has actually appeared on the horizon only recently.

As Martin appeals to those hopes, Stephen Harper delivers a severe program - clean up government, reduce taxes, help entrepreneuers, and end crime. Above all, redeem the federalism that has been tainted by corruption in Quebec.

After that last note, it is easy for Gilles Duceppe to wade in with his cry of despair about federal programs for national unity that he describes brutally as a federal scandal. The conclusion, he says, is that when Quebec's aspirations are at stake, no holds are barred.

Like the weather outlook in January, the forecast for the political scene is for continued nasty storms. —JG

10:05 p.m. EST

Interesting how closely the closing statements mirror the parties� campaign ads. Martin was negative in his opening statement and positive in his closing one. Was it his strategy to come out swinging and hope that people stay tuned until he could be statesmanlike at the end?

Harper follows up with a personal pledge to make Canada better, then says he can only do that by getting rid of the Liberals with their �scandals� and �corruption� -- two of his favourite words these last two years. �My strengths are not spin or passion, you know that, but my policies are clear,� Harper says. He ends with the Conservatives� campaign slogan: �Stand up for Canada.�

Layton also chooses to repeat past accusations, saying the Liberals and Tories are playing �well-rehearsed games, trying to outbid each other with your money.� He pleads with voters to send more NDP MPs to Ottawa, choosing the party as �a third option, a better choice.�

Sovereigntist Duceppe gets to close the English debate, and the Quebec politician takes the opportunity to bring up the latest Liberal headache. �The sponsorship scandal may be a Liberal scandal, but the Option Canada is a federal scandal,� he thundered. Funny, I thought the sponsorship scandal used to be a federal scandal too. Then as the closing theme music comes up, the leaders pick up their briefing books, come out from behind their podiums, quickly shake hands with each other, and then walk away in different directions. —CR

10:04 p.m. EST

A brief flash of the old, angrier Stephen Harper emerges for a couple of seconds. Supposedly a question about fundamental values, it veers off suddenly into day care. Layton says that Harper's no strings attached cash gift to parents shows he doesn't understand Quebec, nor day care.

When it's his turn Harper says he's not willing to promise a "grandiose child-care scheme" that will cost at least $13 billion and has been promised forever. He's right on the last bit. But few now are putting the price tag for child care that high. In fact, Harper's plan to give parents what he calls choice, in the form of $1,200 a year for every child under six, will cost the treasury $10.9 over five years. That is double the deal the provinces have signed onto, at least in principle, with Ottawa. The Liberals' five-year, $5 billion child-care proposal, is designed basically to copy the Quebec model of subsidized institutionalized day-care settings.

Martin says it will be "criminal" if this opportunity is missed. Harper says the Quebec government will probably appreciate Ottawa giving money directly to Quebec parents for child care. Perhaps. It's more likely Quebec will want the money to go directly into its own system, to keep the costly experiment going. —RS
9:56 p.m. EST

An interesting question to Harper about whether it would be better for the Conservatives to win a majority rather than try to strike an alliance with the Bloc. Harper wisely doesn't bite on the majority government question, and repeats his pledge to govern on an issue by issue basis.

Layton and Martin ignore the question entirely and revert to their stump speech. Layton does concede that he is not running to be PM, and accuses Harper of favouring a more "American Canada". Harper objects to that characterization. All in all, this last part of the debate seems very much like an elongated closing statement. —IB

9:53 p.m. EST

Surely voters can see right through politicians who do not answer a direct yes or no question. In which case, all four of these men have been totally transparent at times tonight. Do they really think we don�t notice when they do that, instead switching to a topic where they want to deliver a message track? I�d like to believe they have more respect for us than that. But I can�t. There�s no evidence backing it up. —CR

9:49 p.m. EST

It is probably as close to a gotcha as you get with four experience debaters. Quebec is the issue and in defending the many-splendoured country that is Canada, Martin asks rhetorically what about the aboriginal nations and the Acadian nation.

Duceppe's turn comes. And he agrees. He has no problem accepting the fact that aboriginal First Nations can be called nations, the same with the Acadians and the Metis. So will Martin please acknowledge the same for the Quebec nation.

Martin looks like he has just swallowed worms. Given a followup he eventually stammers that he's always used the word nation when describing Canada's many communities. It's still not entirely clear if he's referring to Quebecers.

Asked directly by moderator Steve Paikin whether he cares who becomes PM after the 23rd, Duceppe says no, they both have the same attitude in his view. Harper, mind you, has just said it is not up to the federal government to define Quebec's place in Confederation, or he suggests, in the world: he says the Constitution gives the province the power to define itself. —RS
9:49 p.m. EST

Once more, with the end of the debate in sight, the tender nerves of politics and patriotism begin to twitch. On the subject of national unity there is suddenly more passion than there has been in the previous 90 minutes of debate.

Gilles Duceppe says that Quebecers are different and that's that; not better but different, and with respect he would like to lead his people out of the desert of federalism.

Paul Martin tries to pluck the nation's heart strings with his insistence that Quebec realizes "how strong we are when we work together." Layton takes the same gentle approach by proclaiming that it is now time for all Canadians to pull together.

Stephen Harper points to the sponsorship scandal in Quebec and ties that and the decline of federalism in Quebec to the Liberal party. With what seems to be an extravagant understatement Harper observes that "we have a national unity problem here."

Martin takes a few sharp verbal jabs at Duceppe and the Bloc leader returns the compliment by mugging for the camera, a gesture that may have amused the television audience but is lost on the agitated Martin.

At the end of the exchange, national unity is as fragile as ever. —JG
9:47 p.m. EST

Some more unfortunate body language has shown up. Harper is answering a question on whether it�s wise for him to be speculating on which party might support a minority Conservative government, given many pundits� conclusion that this kind of talk is what put the kibosh on a possible Conservative win in the 2004 election. And boy, does he look uncomfortable. There�s a fixed grin on his face that doesn�t meet his eyes as he says he will accept �whatever wisdom voters deliver at the polls� and will work with whatever party agrees with the Conservatives on individual issues. His words are passionate, but he�s using his right index finger as a pointer in a way that suggests he�s only barely keeping it from wagging in a scolding manner. —CR

9:36 p.m. EST

Could have sworn I just heard Duceppe say, �We�re not a bitter nation,� speaking of Quebec. Within a few seconds, the context made it clear that he was saying �better,� not �bitter.� It�s a fine distinction some days� Bitterness certainly breaks out less than a minute later when Martin starts talking passionately about Quebec and Duceppe tries to interrupt with a comment in French. Martin fights back, pointedly telling him: �Quebecers are also polite. They understand what a debate is.� Camera pans to Duceppe looking stony-faced as the moderator moves on to Harper. —CR

9:33 p.m. EST

Advocates of strong federal action to solve the problems of our cities will probably be disappointed by this exchange. The original question to Harper was how tax cuts would build a bridge. He says he has other policies to deal with that, but doesn't spell them out.

Martin uses the first part of his answer to challenge Harper on the topic of the previous question: the fiscal imbalance. Harper responds to that, but there is not much there for people looking for answers to the original question of how to rebuild the urban infrastructure. Harper flaunts his public transit tax credit as a way of rewarding public transit users. But the real purpose of the plan when it was first announced by the Conservatives, was to reduce greenhouse gasses. Its value in accomplishing that objective is questionable. —IB
9:30 p.m. EST

Score! Martin just mentioned �China and India� and the need to compete with their growing economies, while answering a question about Quebec�s future. That gives me my first phrase of the night to check off from the NDP�s �Give�em the Boot Bingo� card, printed from the party�s website. It contains 24 phrases that Martin is known to rely on during speeches. And given that my first check mark didn�t come until 90 minutes into the debate, surely that suggests Martin is a rhetorically reformed man. —CR

9:27 p.m. EST

Well, Harper really put his neck out there this time. He doesn't just muse about there being a "fiscal imbalance" between what Ottawa takes in and what the provinces do in revenues. He commits himself to sitting down and negotiating with the provinces to try to find some long-term solution. That could be costly.

Indeed, Martin is laying in the woods on this: when his turn comes, he immediately asks the Conservative leader to provide a complete accounting of what he intends to give up to the provinces over the next few years to resolve this issue. It's something the Liberals have been banging away at the Tories on the Grit website. So Harper should have seen it coming.

As an aside, the Conservative leader also says that there is no reason any province should lose its equalization payments with such a renegotation. That's an interesting concept in that equalization is based on a floating equation broadly on how well individual provinces are doing financially--their situations do vary--over an agreed upon period. It's not an absolute guarantee.

For many observers, this so-called fiscal imbalance exists largely as a Quebec issue, part of the popular accounting game that seems to pop up at referendum times when sovereigntists in particular claim they�ve been cheated by federalism�s balance sheet. Duceppe is in fact the one to raise it.

But lately Ontario has joined in with a colossal $23 billion tab to Ottawa for what it says is its due on cost-sharing programs. Saskatchewan, too, is claiming it is losing out on equalization because of the special side deals Paul Martin signed with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia over offshore resources last year.

Martin has consistently denied there is any kind of fiscal imbalance between the two levels of government. Both Ottawa and the provinces have full authority to raise as much tax revenue as they like for their own purposes. The problem is that since the mid-1990s, since the Mike Harris tax revolution in Ontario, no government has dared raise taxes. And the provinces are looking on Ottawa�s projected surpluses -- $54.5 billion over the next five years�as partly their money. After all, Ottawa got its fiscal act together with its string of eight consecutive budgetary surpluses when Finance Minister Martin took the axe to province transfers for health, welfare and post-secondary education in the his 1995 budget.

Most economists agree Ottawa is in a pretty solid fiscal position at the moment�hence the welter of costly tax cuts and spending promises being bandied about by all parties. While the provincial position is much more tenuous and at the mercy of continually rising health-care costs. Still, the provinces, as a group anyway, posted budgetary surpluses in four of the past six years. (Last year, for example, only Ontario, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador had deficits.) What's more, provincial debt-servicing costs, at roughly 10 per cent of revenues, are much less than the feds, currently at about 18 per cent and dropping. —RS
9:26 p.m. EST

If things work out the way Jack Layton wants, the next Parliament could be a really quite cozy place. As long as the largest party after the election comes out with the kind of program Layton wants - more benefits for seniors and juniors, support for health care and clean up Parliament - then the New Democrats will support that and everyone will be happy.

Stephen Harper, who is ahead in the polls these days, is clearly not eager for a lot of public bargaining. In his characteristic stiff way, Harper explains that he would rather not negotiate the shape of the next Parliament on a television set. But he tries a slap at Layton by saying there's nothing wrong with tax cuts for big businesses who provide big jobs.

Martin clearly does not want to suggest that he might go courting Harper and the Conservatives for support for the Liberals - especially if the Liberals have fewer seats in Parliament. But he does insist that his two top priorities are child care and education.

As for Gilles Duceppe he simply says that he will support what's good for Quebec, and he won't be blinded by stupid ideological commitments like the other parties. That, of course, clears up everything.

It's Stephen Harper who tries to shrug off the other who are nipping at his ankles. —JG

9:18 p.m. EST

A colleague has e-mailed, wondering what�s different about Stephen Harper�s eyes. Are they smaller tonight? Are they a different colour? In fact, there�s something weird about the lighting on the debate set. I�ve quickly checked several nearby TV sets, and all four leaders appear to have brown or hazel eyes, when in person they all have strongly blue peepers. A result of the reflections from the faux taupe marble set, perhaps? In any event, it makes them all look even more monochromatic than usual. Unfortunate. —CR

9:15 p.m. EST

A question on agriculture seems to catch the leaders by surprise. All of them shuffle feverishly through their briefing books while the question is being asked. Not many sparks are generated. The biggest difference between the parties is that the Conservatives are alone in supporting giving wheat farmers the right to opt out of selling their grain through the Wheat Board, but no one bites on that topic. There is much lamenting about the difficulty farmers are facing, but in fact, total farm revenues were up slightly in the first three quarters of 2005, mostly because of a rise in livestock revenues of 7 per cent. The number of farms has actually been declining since 1941. Today, there are fewer farms, but the average size of farms is getting bigger. —IB
9:14 p.m. EST

Ed makes another cameo. This time it's Harper, not Layton, who extols the virtues of the former NDP leader. —RS

9:10 p.m. EST

You win something, you lose something. The format of the last round of debates added variety, colour and reality to the exercise by featuring everyday Canadians on videotape, posing questions directly to the party leaders. But the pacing was slow, with the moderator�s role reduced to saying little more than �It�s your turn now, Mr. X� and occasionally asking for clarification. This time out, we have Steve Paikin from TVO front and centre, truly acting as a moderator and keeping things snappy. Sure, it means an evening of listening to five tall white men, with no visual relief. But the first hour fairly flew by, and there�s a lot of good back-and-forth among the leaders. The first two events? They were question and answer sessions. This? This is a debate. —CR

9:09 p.m. EST

What to do about poverty? The debate begins with a gentle recital of the many measures that are being offered to help low-income Canadians. But it soon deteriorates into an argy-bargy over the competing tax proposals.

Harper maintains his one percentage point cut to the GST will benefit low-income Canadians in particular because it's the one tax that even the lowest earners have to pay. True. And it's a favourite of many anti-poverty activists as well. But Martin's right when he points out that sales taxes like the GST are basically regressive. And its value in putting more money into people's pockets diminishes as you get into the middle income levels, where the Liberals plan for a one percentage point cut in the lowest basic income tax rate probably helps more families there.

Poor Jack Layton gets his math mixed a bit: he claims the Conservatives GST cut over the next five years will be less than the Liberal measures put forward in November. The Conservatives are clearly offering the biggest tax cuts, particularly with the GST giveaways.

On the poverty front, Canadian governments have made many attempts over the years to address child and family poverty but they have not borne much fruit. It is estimated 1.2 million Canadian children live in poverty � or about one in six, a ratio that hasn�t changed significantly in about three decades, despite rising affluence. In the most recent 2005 UNICEF comparisons, Canada ranked 19th of 26 developed nations when it came to the proportion of children living in poverty. We were 17th in 2000, but the proportion of children living below the poverty line is actually slightly smaller now than it was then.

Canada does better than the U.K. and the U.S. when it comes to alleviating family poverty, also when it comes to the gap between rich and poor. But on both measures it trails the Scandinavians as well as most central European countries, which spend more from the public purse on subsidized housing, health care and child care. —RS

9:04 p.m. EST

Good line from Duceppe, about Martin. �He�s campaigning like an NDP, but when he�s in power, he�s acting like a Tory.� I'm sure the Liberal leader would love to have the vote-drawing power of the NDP and the Tories these days� —CR

8:58 p.m. EST

A rather unusual question that begins with the recent Montreal "swingers" court decision and ends with the use of the notwithstanding clause. Only Harper really tries to answer the question but he skirts with some dangerous territory when he says he does not believe the courts must always be supreme. It harkens back to a comment made by his MP Randy White at the end of the last campaign who also thought that the courts should be overruled on important social issues like same-sex marriage. The Liberals were effectively able to exploit White's comments in the dying days of the campaign. Martin uses his opportunity to simply attack Harper on a variety of comments he has made over the years. Harper responds by the inserting the word "flag" as many times as he possibly can in a single sentence, linking back to the CSL issue he raised earlier. —IB
8:57 p.m. EST

Short-lived suspense on the pen front. It lasted for only one question before Martin set it aside again. Good. Back to concentrating on content. —CR

8:53 p.m. EST

At the mere mention of health care, the party leaders begin to tread softly. Nobody is going to run the risk of seeming unsympathetic to health care. That's the kind of thing that could get a leader drummed out of the circle of respectability.

Gilles Duceppe is careful. No, he does not want people paying for health care with their credit cards. But he is not going to let Paul Martin or any other federal leader run away with responsibility for health care. The provinces - in his case, Quebec - can handle health care, Duceppe says. The solution is not federal inspectors by doctors and nurses.

As the man who once promised that he would fix medicare for a generation, Martin is equally careful. Medicare must be public, he says. There may be private medicine, but not funded by the federal government.

Stephen Harper is equally careful because he is usually attacked as a man who wants to privatize health care. Not so, he says, he supports the Canada Health Act, which may or may not be significant because at the same time he says that what is important is providing services, not wallowing around in jurisdictional questions.

In boxing terms, the great battle over medicare was gentle sparring, a few jabs but no punches. —JG
8:53 p.m. EST

Layton and Martin are answering a question about a recent Supreme Court decision allowing swingers clubs by not even addressing it. Layton risks mental whiplash among his watchers by turning it into a private health care polemic. Martin uses the opportunity to bring up an eight-year-old speech given by Harper, perhaps seeing more gains among scared voters than swinging ones. Harper does answer the question without ever using the word �swingers.� He says the decision was not a charter matter but he refuses to believe that the courts should always be paramount in important issues affecting Canadian society. Duceppe gives a rhetorical shrug, saying values evolve and change and the courts reflect that. All in all, four safely bland answers to a spicy question. —CR

8:50 p.m. EST

Do you think Martin knew the questions in advance? Or is this just a lucky guess? Martin shakes up the debate in the early going with a novel idea--one the Liberal web-spinners just happen to get out in a press release within minutes of him putting it forward. Martin asks Harper to join him in the next parliament and agree to a constitutional amendment to do away with the notwithstanding clause that allows Parliament to override the Charter of Rights. He knows of course that Harper is already twisted around over the notwithstanding clause: Harper had to go out of his way in the last debate to say he would never resort to the clause in the case of same-sex marriage.

But the issue comes up again when the leaders are asked if they would use the clause to change the Supreme Court's new definition of community values, when it ruled recently that swingers' clubs do not offend public morality.

An important safety valve, and a deal clincher, when it was agreed to during the big patriation debate in 1981, the notwithstanding clause was never wanted, nor has it ever been used by the federal government. It was a provincial demand, and used by Quebec in the early years after patriation to show its displeasure with the national deal. Harper's legal affairs critic, Vic Toews, has however mused about using the notwithstanding clause to reaffirm parliament's intentions on social issues.

Martin has been firm on not using the notwithstanding--at least during this campaign. In January, 2004, however, he said he would not hesitate to resort to the clause if the Supreme Court should try to force religious bodies to marry same-sex couples, against church doctrine. —RS
8:44 p.m. EST

A visitor from another country listening to this debate would probably think that violent crime is rampant throughout Canada. In fact, most crime is on the decline, though Toronto's "year of the gun" has focused attention on this issue as never before. Harper knows that he is seen as the "law and order" candidate and he alone among the leaders spends all his time on his "get tough on crime" and does not talk about the "root causes" of crime. There is much talk about mandatory minimum sentences. Harper says putting more people in jail will not increase costs within the justice system because those sentences will act as a deterrent. This has not been the experience anywhere that mandatory minimums have been tried. —IB
8:41 p.m. EST

Uh-oh. The pen�s back. In the first French debate just before Christmas, Paul Martin latched onto his pen and didn�t let it go for more than half an hour, waving it with every hand gesture in a way that made you wonder if he wished it were loaded. Now he�s got it in his right hand again as he talks about gun violence. Let�s see if he makes it a security blanket again. In that case, a student of how hand language can distract watchers might come to the conclusion that the pen is mightier than the word. —CR

8:35 p.m. EST

Enough is enough, Martin says. He almost explodes in fact. "We have to have a more intelligent debate," he says, not this "drive by smear." The topic of course was the Gomery inquiry, and why shouldn't the Liberals be punished. The usual phrases are bandied about--scandal, disgrace, a "culture of entitlement," Judge Gomery's phrase for the attitude of key Liberal miscreants.

Duceppe gets his old oar back in the water: the Liberals still haven't said which of their candidates received any ill-gotten sponsorship money. (Gomery only reported which Liberal backroomers took the money, to distribute among certain ridings. And these operatives have all now been blacklisted.)

Martin's main point: that he called the Gomery inquiry immediately on receiving the Auditor General's damning report, not because he was forced to by a huge, long opposition outcry. True, but the A-G's report had been brewing for some time: this issue had appeared two years earlier and the A-G was following up on the accusations that were out there. Her report was well anticipated. —RS
8:32 p.m. EST

Martin�s doing well. He seems reasonable, thoughtful, and he�s not shredding his sentences as much as usual. Very well-rehearsed, or perhaps the recent polls have had the effect of concentrating his mind wonderfully. For his part, Harper is breaking out into occasional smiles even when his words or the topics don�t seem to call for smiles. I guess his patented grim look from June 2004 has been thoroughly drummed out of him. —CR

8:31 p.m. EST

The debate is hardly underway before the four party leaders are in hot pursuit of the people who did or did not contribute to Stephen Harper's campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party. It begins with Harper saying that he would begin his career as prime minister - if that's what the voters decide - by an accountability act that would limit campaign donations to at most $1,000.

No sooner had he done that than Gilles Duceppe said if Harper wanted to be taken seriously he had to reveal the names of the people who contributed to his leadership campaign. Along comes Jack Layton with the same demand. Everything must be open and transparent, he says.

With the pained expression of a man seriously aggrieved, Harper replies that he has already revealed the names of those who had contributed. Duceppe, Martin and Layton look surprised, perhaps stunned. Harper repeats the claim. Some time ago, even years ago, he says. Once more, Duceppe, Martin and Layton look surprised, like men who need a private word with their speechwriters and political coaches. —JG

8:30 p.m. EST

Layton�s voice is unusually soothing tonight. Last time out, in the debate leading up to the June 2004 election, he was criticized for seeming strident. Now he seems to be projecting a �wise, friendly uncle� kind of persona. Let�s see if Uncle Jack stays with us all evening. —CR

8:28 p.m. EST

A discussion on ethics ranges from Quebec to the shores of Liberia. The original question was about whether anyone had any evidence that Goodale was responsible for the income trust leak. No one answers yes or not to that one, pointing out that it was up to the RCMP to deal with that. Harper may have over-reached by saying that "people closely connected with this government" benefited from the income trust changes. One of the unusual parts of this scandal is that it is actually unclear who were the major beneficiaries. Bay Street "insiders" may well have benefited, but whether it was only Liberal Bay St. boys has actually never been alleged.

Harper says that unlike Martin, he would "live under the Canadian flag and pay my taxes". The CSL issue is a more complex than it appears at first.

A cynical person might think that the Option Canada story is primarily a very clever marketing strategy to promote a new book that would otherwise soon end up in the remainder bin. —IB

8:22 p.m. EST

In the earlier debates it was Jack Layton leaning heavily on the good name of party stalwart Ed Broadbent whenever he wanted to cloak himself as an honest do-gooder. Now it's the late Parti Quebecois premier Rene Levesque who gets to make a cameo. Harper said in an earlier debate that he admires Levesque, a rumply ex-journalist who operated one of the cleanest governments in Quebec history. Gilles Duceppe, rather testily, now says he knew Rene Levesque and for someone like Harper, who has never revealed who contributed to his leadership campaign, has a long way to go to assume that mantle —RS
8:09 p.m. EST

As far as the leaders� ties go, Canadians indeed have a clear choice. They can vote for a muted and almost apologetic red patterned one (Paul Martin), a confident Tory-blue plaid number with matching handkerchief (Harper), a black-and-white sovereignty special (Duceppe) or a striped one that looks either red or orange depending on the settings on your TV screen (Layton). —CR
In answer to a question from the moderator, Martin has just answered bluntly: �Of course personal attacks are not constructive.� The next two hours will tell whether he thinks they are necessary, though. His opening statement seemed to suggest his strategy was heading that way. —CR
Duceppe just seems to have told Harper he has no right to invoke the spirit of one of the early leaders of Quebec�s sovereignty movement. If I had to paraphrase it, it would go this way: I knew Rene Levesque. Rene Levesque was a friend of mine. Mr. Harper, you�re no Rene Levesque. —CR
8:08 p.m. EST

Ka-bam. Paul Martin hits out right away in his opening statement: what kind of Canada will a Stephen Harper government create. One that favours the rich, Martin suggests. He says the Tories are promising tax breaks to those who already have money, picking up on his campaign line that the GST cut promised by Harper will benefit primarily those buying the big ticket luxury items.

Harper may have helped this impression on the weekend. He touted his GST break for a family of four buying a new mini-van. But the Conservatives have also gone to a couple of unlikely sources--two left-wing think tanks, one of them the National Anti-Poverty Organization--to buttress their argument that the GST cut will benefit low income families more, because they spend more of their income buying goods. It's an argument the Liberals trotted out once upon a time as well, when they opposed the introduction of the GST by the Mulroney Conservatives in 1992. —RS
8:01 p.m. EST

Interesting that at the very beginning, the moderator made a point of all four leaders having agreed not to interrupt each other. We'll see how long that election promise lasts... —CR

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