Hot political debate fails to guide Canadians
Millions of undecided Canadians watched a nationally televised political debate yesterday, hoping for something to help them make up their minds in a federal election campaign that ends in 12 days.
What they got instead was an extended, two-hour quarrel among the four party leaders. Dressed in dark suits and striped ties, the men squabbled, pointed fingers, refused to answer direct questions, constantly interrupted one another, and did little to clarify issues.
During a rancorous exchange over Canada's role in a possible US missile shield, Prime Minister Paul Martin asked New Democrat leader Jack Layton: 'Did your handlers tell you to talk all the time?'
Mr Layton shot back that national security was no laughing matter.
Mr Martin, for his part, adamantly refused to answer any questions about a government scandal involving US$150 million in payoffs to friendly advertising firms, nor would he give his views on the controversial question of same-sex marriage.
Ironically, the debater who at times made the strongest impression, Gilles Duceppe, heads a party most Canadians cannot vote for. Mr Duceppe is leader of the Bloc Quebecois, a regional party that has candidates only in Quebec.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper, leading in the polls, also came under repeated attack for his party's right-wing policies on military spending, abortion and gay rights.
Mr Harper deflected most of the questions, and repeated his party's mantra that 11 years of Liberal government had left Canada's health-care system in disrepair and that Canadians were fed up with political dishonesty and scandal.
The debate, organised by Canada's three leading television networks, was designed to clarify the positions of the four leaders, in an election that is very close.
Political insiders say that in the modern TV debate, it is often more important not to lose, than to win. That is what happened last night: there were no clear winners, and the only losers were voters hoping for some elucidation.