French debate primer
The first election debate is set for tonight at 8 in French. There was a time when politicians said one thing in French and something else in English. Those days are long gone and Blackberry campaigning has further helped bury that trend. That said, there will certainly be fine-tuning for the Quebec audience. So, watch for culture and language to feature in the back and forth.
Economics is to get a bigger play in both debates. We could hear more about forestry in a French debate than the downturn in the automotive industry. And while a tough line on young offenders might work in Ontario, it meets resistance in Quebec. Chances are we'll hear lots about Iraq — not just because of the Howard video the Liberals released yesterday but because Quebec is so anti-war.
Pollsters usually say debates just reinforce voters' leanings. But this time, they tell us there's still a lot of volatility out there — meaning these debates could really sway people. The Conservatives will also want to try to reduce the 15 per cent gap in support between men and women for Stephen Harper.
Also there won't be much time to repair any damage done during the debate by any of the candidates. In the 1988 debate, John Turner bested Brian Mulroney over free trade, telling him "you sold us out." The Mulroney team took the full two weeks left in the campaign to beat back the effects of that debate. They said of their counter-offensive, it was time to "bomb the bridge" — and they went after Turner's credibility.
Yves Dupré is a marketing consultant and has advised the Parti Quebecois and the Conservatives in the past. He was on CBC Radio's C'est La Vie talking about the French debate. Dupré says Harper's French has really improved.
Four years ago French listeners would be distracted by his French. They wouldn't "hear the message, they'd just hear the words" Harper was using. Dupré describes Dion's French as "perfect", "professorial." Dion's tone suggests "I'm going to show you, not I'm listening to you."
According to Dupré, Layton's French is good — but he's inconsistent, moving from formal French to street French. He says Duceppe has French that fits in anywhere. As for the Green's Elizabeth May, just showing up and speaking French will improve Quebec's view of her.
̵ Sally Caudwell
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