Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was on some kind of speed. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was cool and competent. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair tried to look like a statesman.
For full Globe coverage of the debate, click here.
In a leaders' debate like the one on Thursday night, details generally escape the viewers. Leaders interrupt each other. They make outrageous claims. They distort history. They interrupt each other. How could a reasonable citizen follow what transpired last night?
Through the blizzard of words, which leader came across as best capable of running the country? Who could tell, when for the most part the three repeated talking points and positions for the umpteenth time? Not once did any of them move off the talking points and, as such, they were not forced to confront the long-term challenges of the Canadian economy, the subject billed as the focus of the debate.
What counted, therefore, in such circumstances, was the overall impression of personality and competence of the leaders, and the answer to that question will inevitably be subjective.
By that standard, Mr. Harper, who was badgered by the two opposition leaders, more than held his own. When he was not being interrupted by Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau, he spoke with precision. His critics, of course, will never accept that positive verdict, but they would never credit him for anything. A more objective reckoning would say that, as the target throughout the evening, the Prime Minister looked, well, prime ministerial, and explained yet again his view that low taxes and no deficit is the best formula for future growth.
"We don't need balance," declared Mr. Trudeau, explaining why he proposes deficits for the next three years. His argument was clearly put: The economy is fragile, interest rates are low, so now is the time to borrow and spend. He repeated that argument forcefully over and over again. But he seemed so overwrought, interrupted the others so often, and seemed so wound up – presumably advised to be seen as the aggressor – that he appeared the opposite of prime ministerial. He had, it must be said, rehearsed his talking points.
No doubt, certain observers will suggest Mr. Trudeau "won" the debate, but such a verdict would indicate that, because he talked and interrupted the most, he provided the best television. Which indeed he did, because only a small number of Canadians will have watched the debate compared with those who will see brief clips on television newscasts in the days ahead. It almost seemed as if his handlers had instructed Mr. Trudeau that substance and narrative do not count, but aggressive interventions that can be turned television clips do.
As for Mr. Mulcair, he tried to direct his attacks at both Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau while presenting himself as the soul of fiscal rectitude and social progress simultaneously. Not once did he move off his speaking notes, which, one supposes, is the art of a successful campaigner, improbable as some of those notes are in the real world.
Did any of the leaders say anything they have not said a hundred times before? No. Did any of them put forward any new ideas? No. Did any of them suggest they had thought deeply about the tectonic changes confronting the Canadian economy in a completely different world economy? No. Did any of them say a word about the aging of the population that will change so many assumptions about future economic growth? No. Did the issue get raised of how Canadian natural resource projects could be brought to successful conclusion amid the thicket of aboriginal land claims and strident environmentalists? No. Did any of them address the impoverishment of aboriginals, whose birth rate is far above the national average, an impoverishment that holds them and the Canadian economy back? No. Did any of them take note of the digital revolution? Did any observe that the future of Canada will depend on becoming educationally smarter, that the economy of tomorrow will depend on brainpower?