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Blah, blah, ideas, blah, blah, blah, green, blah, hope.

Never mind who won or lost the English debate Tuesday night, the real story is that NDP Leader Jack Layton just couldn't stop talking.

It was so noticeable that a couple of smart journalists decided to time exactly how long Mr. Layton was able to remain quiet. Unscientific though it was, they discovered that Mr. Layton could only keep quiet for between 21 and 36 seconds during his exchanges.

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The rest of the time he was talking and talking and talking to the point that Liberal Leader Paul Martin became so irritated that he said, "Do your handlers tell you to talk all the time?" (A bit rich coming from the man whose handlers told senior cabinet ministers to go out and ambush Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.) At the press conference after the debate, Mr. Layton was asked several times whether it was his strategy to try to irritate, annoy and bother the Liberal Leader. No, he said, he just wanted to make sure he presented his ideas.

Birthday wishes

The Liberal war room threw a birthday bash recently for national campaign co-chairman David Herle (he's a June baby). He was celebrating his 42nd birthday and congratulated the members of his campaign crew, telling them, according to an insider, that they were the "greatest team ever assembled." The Liberal Party of Canada has dropped 17 points in the polls since Mr. Martin and his team took office.

The BQ jokester

Several years ago, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe hired Quebec comedian Serge Grenier to write his speech for the annual press gallery dinner. Party leaders are all invited to this gala affair and are expected to deliver funny speeches. Mr. Duceppe's speeches were never funny -- even when he had the joke writer -- and for the past couple of years he has been a no-show.

How things have changed.

This week, Mr. Duceppe is receiving rave reviews in the Quebec press for his performance in both the French and English debates. And one line is resonating in Quebec -- during the French debate he mocked Paul Martin about his family's company Canada Steamship Lines and tax havens, arguing that CSL is no pédalo company. English translation: paddleboat company. Quebeckers loved the line. The writer of the joke is none other than Mr. Duceppe's wife, Yolande Brunelle. Obviously, she provides the yuks in the family.

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Jack-Air flies to the U.S.

It's rather ironic that the NDP's campaign plane has been flying over to America, given the party's worries about cozying up to the United States. Read on: Air Canada had to borrow Mr. Layton's campaign plane Monday to fly a special charter from Montreal to Indianapolis. (Mr. Layton was preparing for the debates so he didn't need it.) But to do this, the airline had to get permission from the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The reason? Under its licence for international charters, Air Canada is allowed to fly planes into the U.S. only with its company logo. "In order to operate the subject flight [to Indiana]Air Canada must use the aircraft that presently displays the name and logo of the NDP and the name of its leader, Jack Layton," the airline company said in its request to the CTA. It didn't mention that the logos and name were in bright orange and green. The request was granted.

Hot and not

Not: Cranky voters and vicious pets. Tony Clement, the Brampton West Tory candidate, is seeing his share of both at the door. Recently, he was bitten by a German shepherd -- it was a flesh wound requiring no stitches. Mr. Clement now carries around dog biscuits in his right pocket as a preventive measure.

Hot (as in under the collar): Liberals in Kenora, Ont. Some Liberals in this Northern Ontario community are fuming over the way in which Paul Martin treated former MP and Chrétien minister Bob Nault -- dumping him from cabinet and dissociating his government from Mr. Nault's work on the aboriginal file. Mr. Nault is not running this time, so they are voting NDP. Sources say even Mr. Nault's brother has an NDP sign.

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Hot: The kiss. Jack Layton and Olivia Chow's embrace after the English-language debate Tuesday night rivalled that of the famous and very passionate buss of Tipper and Al Gore at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

With reports from Paul Waldie, Daniel Leblanc and Katherine Harding

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