Parties, leaders spin victory from debate performance

Political party spinners were quick to declare victory for their side after Tuesday night's televised leaders' debates, while the leaders themselves were more circumspect about their performances in post-debate interviews.
Key moments from the 2011 English-language leaders' debate. 8:06

Political party spinners were quick to declare victory for their side after Tuesday night's televised leaders' debates, while the leaders themselves were more circumspect about their performances in post-debate interviews in Ottawa.

The four leaders, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Jack Layton, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff finished a two-hour televised debate and then came to a microphone one at a time to briefly answer questions from reporters.

Harper told reporters it wasn't for him to judge his performance and that he wouldn't analyze himself or the other leaders, but he did indicate he was satisfied with the debate.

French-language debate

The four political leaders will be back at the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa on Wednesday night for the French-language debate.

The debate will air between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET and be co-moderated by Radio-Canada's Anne-Marie Dussault and TVA's Paul Larocque.

The format will be similar to the English-language debate, as the four leaders square off in six one-on-one debates, followed by a broader debate among all the leaders.

The order of the one-on-one debates will be:

  • Ignatieff-Duceppe
  • Harper-Layton
  • Ignatieff-Harper
  • Duceppe-Layton
  • Harper-Duceppe
  • Layton-Ignatieff

And the closing arguments will be in the following order:

  • Harper
  • Ignatieff
  • Duceppe
  • Layton

The French-language debate was supposed to have been held on Thursday, but it was moved  because it was going to run head-to-head against the Montreal Canadiens' first game in the NHL playoffs.

"I feel good about how we did in the debate," said Harper. His objective was to talk to Canadians about his government's record and what he thinks the "real issues" are, including job creation and keeping taxes low, he said.

"I think we did that, we communicated to Canadians and laid out where we want to take the country and that was my objective and I feel quite comfortable that we achieved that," said Harper.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said he thought he was able to distinguish himself from the other leaders during the debate, which featured one-on-one exchanges between the leaders.

"We distinguished our position very clearly by pointing out that it was Mr. Ignatieff and his party that helped Mr. Harper for two and a half years. We have those two old parties with their old problems and their failures," said Layton.

When asked by reporters about Ignatieff's attendance record, an issue he brought up during the debate, Layton responded: "I think it's kind of shocking. If you're going to apply for a job… if you are going to apply for a promotion, you at least ought to show up for the job. I found it pretty shocking that Mr. Ignatieff was only there 30 per cent of the time to vote."

Ignatieff told reporters he said what he wanted to say about the lack of respect Harper shows for democracy. He said he hoped he showed that he offered a sensible alternative who had compassion.

"I think I explained why we're having an election, which is that we asked for the truth about his jets, jails and corporate tax breaks, and (Harper) didn't tell the House of Commons the truth so he was found in contempt," said Ignatieff. 

"That's why we're having an election."

In his post-debate remarks, Duceppe took aim at the Conservative plan to purchase 65 F-35 fighter jets and the contradictory price estimates for them.

"Well, I would imagine if you have a contract, you know how much it costs. (Harper) says he doesn't know," Duceppe said.

"He refused to answer that. So we're going from $75 million for a fighter aircraft that probably doesn't even have a motor, that has no attack or defence system in it. Did we buy kites? What did we buy?"

Duceppe also refrained from giving his two cents on who he thought performed best during the two-hour debate.

While the leaders were reluctant to comment on their own performances, and those of their rivals, representatives from their parties were not.

"I think Mr. Layton did very well," said Karl Belanger, Layton's press secretary. "I think he was clearly able to establish himself as a real alternative to the old parties."

In his view, Layton landed blows against Harper and Ignatieff, citing the Liberal leader's attendance record in Parliament as an example.  

"He looked very relaxed, very comfortable," said Belanger. "He raised his points, delivered his message clearly to Canadians and was able to do it in a very composed and calm manner."  

Dimitri Soudas, director of communications for Harper, said he thought the "take-away" message for Canadians from the debate should be that "only one party and only one leader has a plan to keep the country on the right track" and achieving that means a majority Conservative government.  

Liberal MP David McGuinty, meanwhile, said the debate showcased the personalities of the leaders, which was a positive outcome for Ignatieff and a negative one for Harper.

"I think his natural personality came through which is compassionate, thoughtful, and working hard to try to earn the trust of Canadians," McGuinty said about Ignatieff's performance.