Martyn Brown: Who won the “Glib & Male” debate? Mulcair, Twitter, and Thursday Night Football

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      Who won the “Glib & Male” debate, as Elizabeth May dubbed it, in what may have been last night’s (September 17) best one-liner? For me, it wasn’t even close. Tom Mulcair won, on virtually every level. 

      Next to him, Twitter probably won the most, thanks largely to May’s clever marketing gimmick, that gave her and that social media outlet so much free exposure in highlighting the Globe’s inexcusable decision to exclude her from the debate. 

      What an abomination it was, delivered to our homes by Canada’s so-called “paper of record”. 

      If you missed it, it wasn’t remotely as informative or watchable as Peter Mansbridge’s individual interviews were with the party leaders, on CBC. Even if you saw the truncated versions on the National, those extended interviews are a must-see for anyone really interested in learning more broadly about the leaders, the parties, and their platforms.

      In its construct, question content and moderating, the Globe debate was a mess and a missed opportunity that mostly short-changed Canadian voters.

      It was bad enough that the Globe shut out the only female national leader from its self-promotional forum. But to have a debate that long, supposedly all on the economy, without a single question on so many of the issues that really matter was just pathetic.

      There wasn’t a single question on free trade or on manufacturing, clean technology, forestry, mining, agriculture, tourism, small business—you name it. Other than the good points unilaterally raised by Mulcair, there was no discussion of the role of daycare in supporting economic development.

      Given the Globe’s seeming contempt for women in its all-male slugfest, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Social policy, like environmental policy clearly are not on the Globe’s radar screen, nor is daycare obviously one of its top-of-mind concerns, critical as it is to so many working women and to young families in our increasingly age-challenged Canadian workforce. 

      Or perhaps those are all topics that Toronto’s “national paper” is saving for its “premium” Globe Unlimited content, for anyone willing to pay its rather hefty subscription price.

      Then there was the moderator, the Globe’s own editor-in-chief, David Walmsley.

      To say that he was inept, self-important, and embarrassingly out of his depth in his decidedly limited capacity is an understatement. The contrast to the MacLean's debate and to its moderator, Paul Wells, could not have been more unflattering. 

      In its design, rules, and staging, the Globe debate looked like it was more concerned with marketing itself than it was with encouraging a productive democratic discussion.

      What was the Globe thinking having its moderator standing next to the leaders on stage, forcing them to turn away from us, the viewers, to him in their responses?

      To add insult to injury, Walmsley actively engaged the other “great white hopes” as though he were a combatant, typically by taking cheap shots at Mulcair and Trudeau. At times he was just rude.

      It was the Globe’s own private “Fight Club”. Its first rule was to guarantee unruliness. 

      You remember that movie, starring Brad Pitt and Ed Norton? At least those two didn’t have a “referee” also pounding the crap out of them as they exchanged blows.

      Like that movie’s narrator said, “I got in everyone's hostile little face…Yes, I'm comfortable with that. I am enlightened.” Such was Walmsley’s contribution. As that flick’s narrator also boldly asserted, “ I felt like destroying something beautiful.” Mission accomplished, David.

      I can’t imagine any women enjoying the spectacle that Walmsley’s verbal assaults and lack of decorum and discipline assured.

      All the while I kept thinking to myself, “Man, and I’m missing Thursday Night Football for this?” At least football is a blood sport that has some semblance of rules and order, where we can tell the players from the guys in stripes, who try their best to stay out of the fray. 

      Back to the debate, which was not entirely without its merits. 

      In contrast to Trudeau and Harper, Mulcair was masterful. 

      He was tough, humorous, confident, relaxed, expertly combative, and clearly more prime ministerial than his lefter liberal counterpart. 

      Mulcair managed to communicate much more about his party’s platform and about his family, his personal values, and his unique professional experience than Trudeau did. Any objective observer would have to conclude that he sounded more ready to lead a government than his younger, less experienced and faster talking counterpart.

      The fact that neither Trudeau nor Harper attacked Mulcair’s rather thin fiscal accounting “plan” didn’t hurt him any either.

      Whereas the other leaders got mired down in the mud of the nebulous economic and fiscal issues that barely matter to so many Canadians, Mulcair spoke to a hopeful vision for economic change that is fiscally reassuring and that is also socially and environmentally responsible. Only he spoke of that triple bottom line that is so vital to any talk of intergenerational deficits. 

      Perhaps above all, Mulcair looked and sounded comfortable in his skin, honestly committed to his program, and unapologetic about his pragmatic approach to affordable reforms that inspire trust in both his leadership and in his party’s readiness to govern. 

      That’s no small accomplishment, given the debate’s limited focus and its at times unlistenable interactions. I suspect that many disaffected former Conservatives and Liberals alike watched Mulcair’s performance and quietly said to themselves, “Yeah, I could vote for that guy.” 

      Sure, Trudeau succeeded in reinforcing his focus-tested appeal to “investing in Canada” through deficit financing. But compared to his more statesmanlike opponents, he sounded almost desperate and often yappy, bordering on shrill. He especially made Mulcair look better. 

      To me, Trudeau came across as a cliché-riddled lightweight, who mostly lived up to his opponents’ main criticism that he is just not ready for prime time as Canada’s next PM. Given the scope of his party’s platform and the target-rich environment he had available to highlight its promise for change, Trudeau blew it, big time. 

      Because so few Canadians likely saw the debate on CPAC, or weathered its entire length, it remains to be seen what affect the debate or its ensuing media coverage will have on the parties’ standings in the opinion polls. 

      Perhaps the media’s predictable main conclusion that there were “no clear winners and no knockouts” will minimize the fallout for any leader and party. We shall see.

      It would be the height of irony if the Globe’s decision to exclude May, enthusiastically supported by Harper, had the effect of finally galvanizing the Anyone But Conservative (ABC) vote behind Mulcair’s front-running NDP. 

      Elizabeth May took part in the leaders' debate via Twitter.

      Indeed, in reflecting on the MacLean's debate, which included the Green Party’s leader, Harper may want to rethink his stubborn refusal to participate in a truly nationally televised debate that includes May. Arguably, she helped him as much as she hurt all three of her counterparts in that first-rate debate. 

      It is a strange decision on the Conservatives’ part to want to leave their best hoped-for vote-splitting opponent out of the picture. 

      By helping to frame the ABC voters’ decision as a choice between only two parties, Team Harper is making it that much easier for so-called strategic voters to rally behind one clear alternative. 

      The upcoming Munk debate on foreign policy will further reinforce that optic as it drives more votes to the New Democrats and Liberals at the Greens’ expense.

      If Mulcair does as well in that debate as he did last night, and as he is likely to do in the only French language debate, he may yet emerge as the runaway favourite to replace Harper. 

      Indeed, I’d say that given his performance in past public service, in Opposition, and in this election campaign to date, Mulcair has more than earned that status. 

      His leadership, platform and team are all compelling arguments for an Orange wave that promises to deliver a sea change in Canada’s political culture and in Canadians’ perceptions of the NDP as a viable option to form the next federal government.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia. He is the author of the ebook Towards a New Government in British Columbia. Contact Brown at