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Politics We learned much about our political leaders in wake of Ottawa shooting

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of CBC The National's "At Issue" panel and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He writes a weekly digital column for The Globe and Mail.

On any given week in Ottawa, it can be hard to see what Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have in common. But this was anything but just another week.

The murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and the attack on the Centre Block could have magnified the differences – the things that set these three men apart from one another.

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But it had the opposite effect.

For the three leaders, much care would have gone into the remarks they prepared and delivered on Wednesday night on television and Thursday morning in the House of Commons.

In the words they chose, the tone they employed, the ideas they expressed, they revealed that they don't see a blue, orange or red Canada: they see Canadians, with common values.

While they spend much of their time with partisans of different stripes, these influences were barely in evidence.

Each leader expressed their personal feelings and sought to empathize with those upset, worried and traumatized. They were articulate, and statesmanlike. Mr. Harper was a little more focused on what to do, the others a bit more drawn to discuss how we feel. But these were differences of degree, and for the moment any way, marginal parts of their message.

The daily grind of politics is often about voters and commentators talking about the strengths and more often the failings of our politicians. But this was the opposite: our political leaders describing what Canada looks like, from their vantage point, and when we are tested. They all touched on common themes.

How painfully we grieve over loss. Our heartache at the murder of Cpl. Cirillo reverberates as we share pictures of the late reservist, and pictures of his lonely dogs too.

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That we feel compelled to comfort and assist those in distress. We will rarely if ever read a sadder, or more inspiring story than that of Barbara Winters, the woman who consoled the mortally wounded soldier, telling him how deeply he was loved – to ease his passing.

The way we show courage and modesty in equal measures. We saw images of police and security officials charging towards gunfire – the essence of duty. And, from Kevin Vickers, the Sergeant-at-Arms widely credited with taking down the murderer, a statement mostly about concern for others and credit to his security service colleagues.

The leaders also described how when we as Canadians feel threatened together, we recognize our common bond and pull together. And for their part, it didn't seem like political strategy that caused them to put aside their partisanship: it felt more like human nature.

In their statements, the leaders also revealed pragmatism when it comes to talking about how to respond. In the weeks ahead there may be disagreements about the policy proposals promised by the Prime Minister. But each leader, in different measure and using different words, acknowledged an instinct to balance protection with liberty. And to try to find the right balance together.

If there are any political implications – there may or may not be – they will centre on what we take away about the character and philosophy of the leaders.

All three major party leaders revealed more of their basic nature this week.

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The Prime Minister showed a side of himself that people have rarely, if ever, seen. He is often cast as a man who detests his political rivals, a characterization he usually seems disinclined to refute. But in the House of Commons on Thursday, he demonstrated a fellowship towards those he disagrees with that, if it persists over time, may reshape the way he is judged by voters.

The other leaders showed why the next election looks extraordinarily competitive: these are individuals who well understand the people they seek to serve.

Justin Trudeau has faced considerable criticism that his position on the Islamic State is riskily pacifistic. He could have used the moment to reset and tack a line closer to that of the government when it comes to combatting any possible terror risk. In choosing not to do that, he showed mettle, a commitment to his world view, whether you agree with it or not.

Thomas Mulcair is often judged on the basis of his temperament, and sometimes gets mixed reviews. To my eyes, his statement on Wednesday night was easily the most resonant. What he felt, viewers saw: sadness, compassion, anger, and a resolve not to change what is best in our country, our commitment to freedom.

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