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The London Leadership Debate

Last night, my wife and I drove the hour and a bit to London, Ontario for a locally organised all-candidates debate. It was my first time seeing any of the nine candidates in person, and it was definitely a worthwhile experience.

On the way we were running a bit behind schedule and stopped at the service station at Beachville for a quick bite to eat. We pulled into a parking spot, next to a sedan with two people inside. The car pulled out, then pulled right back in, evidently deciding eating dinner in their car was safer when not actually moving. I am fairly certain that the passenger in the car was Martha Hall Findlay. In her opening statements she mentioned the 22,000 km figure for her bus again, and I assume that since that was the number in both the Quebec and BC debates, and seeing as I am pretty sure I saw her in a sedan, she has not been driving it much lately.

The first two candidates I saw venture into the room were Ken Dryden and Bob Rae. Television has a remarkable way of making everyone appear to be the same size, but, I was surprised to note, Ken Dryden is a giant man, and Bob Rae.. is not. All the candidates looked more or less like I expected, but seeing them in person rather than on TV they look a little different somehow.

The debate got under way at around 19:00. Three riding association presidents stood up at the mike together to welcome us and start off the debate. They made reference to the presence of all the candidates, noting it would be the last all-candidate event before Delegate Selection Meetings. I looked around the stage, noting: Hedy Fry - Joe Volpe - Scott Brison - empty podium - Stéphane Dion - Bob Rae - Michael Ignatieff - Ken Dryden - Martha Hall Findlay. I wondered if anyone would explain why there were only eight people at the nine podiums if everyone was here. Had Gerard Kennedy dropped out in the preceding hours?

The opening statements began. Just as Scott Brison was about to start speaking, Gerard Kennedy entered the room and quietly ran up to his podium, causing the moderator to re-explain to the audience for Kennedy's benefit the signals for when each speaker would be out of time.

Most of what the candidates had to say is what the candidates normally have to say. A few things stood out for me. I did not take any notes, so this is them in the order that I remember them:

On the topic of Maher Arar and security certificates, Michael Ignatieff asserted that we should abolish security certificates, something I agree with completely. If people have broken a law, charge them, in a closed court if needed, but charge them. Dion noted on the same question that he was surprised at how obvious many of the report recommendations were, citing one that said the RCMP should have annual reports on the human rights conditions in other countries.

In their answers about the war in Afghanistan, Brison and Ignatieff were clearly on the stick-it-out side, while the rest were on the side of not staying there forever. Kennedy said we should make NATO do it right or get out, Dion stated that we must rebuild the country as was done with the Marshal plan, though Ignatieff countered that we need security before we can rebuild. It is a bit of a catch 22, I think. We will not have security until we rebuild, and we can not rebuild until there is security. Perhaps we would get somewhere if we just go ahead and rebuild.

Still on Afghanistan, there was discussion of how to wean the Afghani economy off opium. Martha Hall Findlay pointed out the hypocracy of our position, noting that the market for opium is largely in the West, and citing the lack of profitable alternatives for Afghani farmers.

After a 90 second break, the debate briefly shifted to a format where, instead of each candidate answering each question in sequence for one minute each, the candidates were given 30 seconds and only three were selected to answer the questions, chosen at random.

One of the questions in this format was on renewing Liberal party fund-raising. Naturally, the randomly selected candidates to answer that question included Joe Volpe and Bob Rae, the most curious fund-raiser and the most successful fund-raiser in the campaign combined. Volpe tried to make a joke of his answer, but it fell flat. We should increase our popular vote, he said, so that we get a bigger subsidy from Elections Canada.

Scott Brison had a lot of zingers and can be very funny, though being funny does not necessarily make someone a good leader. Among my favourites were his comments that he would address Quebec's lack of inclusion in the constitution in his second term as Prime Minister, and later, that he was born a Liberal but only came out of the closet recently.

Sticking with the constitution for a moment, Findlay and Dion's responses to how to rectify Quebec's absence from the Canadian constitution were apt, amounting to "don't we have more important things to do?" I couldn't agree more: reopening the constitutional debates plays right into the hands of the Bloc and accomplishes nothing whatsoever.

Bob Rae poked fun at his own history as an NDP premier on at least two occasions, once mentioning a mysteriously appearing Trillium Drug Program that showed up in Ontario.... in 1994, and later commenting that multiple terms is something he knows little about.

On health care, predictably all the candidates angled toward a single-payer system. Martha Hall Findlay made reference to the "elephant in the room" of the private sector's role, suggesting competition within the system wasn't a bad thing. There is definitely a role for the private sector in health care, as she noted in her comments. General Practitioners, for example, have long been publicly funded private practices. But encouraging competition within the health care system has its risks. I have a photo worth a thousand words to say on that particular topic, as a caution. This photo is of a billboard in Utica, New York which I took on December 30th, 2005:

Utica ambulance billboard

Well, that's about it for the content. Most of what was said has been said by all sides many times before. The debate was aired on Rogers TV locally, but I have no idea whether it will ever be viewable by a wider audience.

Having now seen all the candidates in person rather than on TV, I'd like to give my impression of each, from left to right:

Lastly, I note that six of the nine candidates wear glasses. What is remarkable to me is that any of them still even have a sense of sight. At the end of the debate, I looked back toward the lighting pointed at the stage and noted no fewer than four very bright lights pointed straight at the candidates' faces. If politicians seem to see things a little spottedly, I can understand why!

Also see this entry on liberaliaca for more reaction to yesterday's debate.

Posted at 15:59 on September 21, 2006

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

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jill writes at Thu Sep 21 20:08:06 2006...

Kennedy conceited? You obviously do not know the man. He is probably one of the most down to earth people you will ever meet. He managed a 17 billion dollar ministry, larger than some federal ministies. He is a true Liberal, has a positive track record and is tested.

Liberals have to ask themselves, are we going for real renewal of the Party? Are we going to break free from the Chretien-Martin conflict?

A look at the 2 front-runners makes Kennedy look pretty darn good right now.

Andrew Cameron writes at Thu Sep 21 20:47:19 2006...

from out in Calgary, this is a nice reporting account of a good local event in London, ON. You do not convey too much bias, and you admit you have chosen to offer support to Dion. I think you have done well here. Kudos. I think you are right, too, if candidates from all over the place can make it on time (many from Ottawa, no doubt) then Kennedy should too. And I like Kennedy from the OLP years. I'll disagree that he is conceited, like the other comment above.

Yappa writes at Thu Sep 21 23:02:36 2006...

For a couple of years I did volunteer work as a receptionist at the Daily Bread Food Bank, sitting outside Gerard Kennedy's office, and I think you intuited his personality very accurately. He struck me as conceited and very arrogant, as well as dismissive of people's feelings. I don't know how to reconcile this with what his supporters say about him, except that maybe he didn't bother to turn on the charm for a lowly unpaid receptionist.

Joseph writes at Fri Sep 22 21:10:56 2006...

Thanks for going to the debate. Reading your report, I really felt what it must have been like to be there. I could even hear the noise and see the confusion the bright lights cast.

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