A first-time visitor to Canada who flicked on the television last night would have been forgiven for wondering at the state of our country's politics.
The issues discussed at last night's "all-parties debate" in Toronto gave the impression of a nation at a bizarre crossroads.
Should we be focusing on curing the environment, or killing free trade? Smoking up, or bouncing on our butts? Communism or Marxist-Leninism?
Some expected last night's event -- featuring the leaders of the six "other" parties fielding at least 50 candidates in the federal election -- would be a political circus.
It never got that interesting.
It was much more calm and coherent than the recent "mainstream debates." If you paid attention, you left knowing more about what the Natural Law Party or the Marijuana Party would do with the budget surplus than you likely found out from any of the five front-running parties during the major debates. And all that without the help of cue cards.
It only got surreal if you really listened to the platforms. All six parties -- Natural Law, the Marijuanaites, the Green Party, the Canadian Action Party, plus the Communists and the Marxist-Leninists -- sit on the left side of the political spectrum.
As such, all six seemed at times to be agreeing with each other.
Take health care. Communist Party Leader Miguel Figueroa said more money needs to be poured into the system. Nobody disagreed.
Marijuana Party Leader Marc-Boris St-Maurice said medical marijuana is the solution. Nobody disagreed.
Natural Law Party co-leader Ashley Deans said the answer could be found by a group of yogic flyers. Nobody disagreed.
You were left with a vision of 301 free-spending MPs toking up while soaring blissfully a few centimetres off the ground. Somehow this would create space in emergency rooms.
That's not to say nobody stood out. You knew you were in for something special just two minutes into the debate, when Green Party Leader Joan Russow referred to the five mainstream parties as "part of the industrial-military-financial" complex.
The quote of the day went to Mr. Deans, who explained his position on climate change this way: "All of the outside influences that are damaging Canada today are coming because of incoherence in our collective consciousness. As a physicist, I can speak of the Meisner Effect, where a magnetic field can penetrate a metal, unless the electrons in the metal are highly coherent. Then you have a superconductor and that repels the outside influence."
Again, that's climate change he was allegedly speaking on.
The first hour of the debate was carried live on CBC Newsworld, an arrangement reached after organizer Greg Vezina threatened to embarrass the networks by asking U.S. public-broadcasting stations close to the Canada-U.S. border to broadcast something the CBC wasn't planning to.
Mr. Vezina, who put up thousands of dollars of his own money to make the debate happen, organized a similar televised debate for alternative parties in 1993. The five mainstream parties were invited to participate, but none did.