Just a quick recap of today’s debate in the race for the leadership of Canada’s socialist New Democratic Party (see previous post for why this matters, and check out my twitter account for my live tweets).
Nobody landed any hard blows or broke out of the pack, so nothing changes from my previous rankings concerning who is in the top tier and who isn’t. We did, however get a taste of how each of the candidates look under the lights, and how they might look leading Canada’s left-wing in Parliament against Stephen Harper. I didn’t watch the French language half, but here’s what we learned from the English:
Brian Topp: The party president and consummate backroom strategist showed that he can in fact operate as a politician, but with some eccentricities born of inexperience. He was feisty and eloquent, but perhaps too much so – he mounted a rather aggressive attack on Paul Dewar’s jobs plan, which was odd as Dewar isn’t much of a threat. He also does this weird move where he cocks his head to the side when he talks, this needs fixed. But overall a good showing.
Thomas Mulcair: Mulcair was calm and professorial, and honestly I can’t remember much about his performance. Competent but not the fiery Mulcair we’re used to. Not bad, not great, but probably put to rest some questions about his temper.
Peggy Nash: A little stiff, but polished and no major mistakes. Probably needs to be more relatable and more charismatic if she wants to break into the top tier.
Paul Dewar: Dewar’s French was a question coming in, and I can’t speak to that, but he didn’t do himself any favors in English. His policies were articulated decently, and we know he’s jobs-focused, but he was stiff, very pale, and generally looked like something out of a Twilight movie. This was not the charismatic Paul Dewar we expected. He needs to make some changes before the next debate, possibly including a trip to a tanning salon – which is not something I generally recommend.
THE DARK HORSES
Nathan Cullen: The breakout star of the debate if there was one. Cullen was incredibly polished, totally unflappable, and scored several major laugh lines in an otherwise serious affair. He was, bar none, the best performer on stage. Now he has to find a way to translate that into support.
Niki Ashton: Ashton is very well spoken and has a good message, but she comes off as a stern and schoolmarmish. Her optimistic message about “New Politics” needs a hopeful tone, so she needs to smile while delivering it. She also needs to dump her new all-black “campaign” wardrobe and go back to the brightly (even garishly) colored suits she’s known for in Parliament – they work better with her personality, make her seem less stern, and communicate youth. She’s also a bit monotonous with the “new politics” catchphrase - it’s a great theme but it’s not quite as catchy as “Yes We Can”.
Romeo Saganash: I actually thought Saganash had the strongest opening statement, but it became clear very quickly that he was incredibly nervous. I expected something like that from him as he is soft spoken, but this was bad. He rushed his delivery and nervously cleared his throat multiple times, often mid-sentence. His personal story gives him major potential, but he needs to take multiple chill pills and settle down if he wants a chance to get in this race.
Robert Chisholm: There was nothing bad about his English performance, although he had a big problem with French in that he didn’t speak it and used simultaneous translation. However, there was nothing really remarkable. He’s a standard-issue politician, and that just doesn’t cut it when you’re starting in the back of the pack. This campaign is not going anywhere fast.
Martin Singh: The turbaned Sikh businessman with no elected experience was the biggest question mark coming into today, and he had a big opportunity to get his message out – but I’m not sure he seized it. He was a good, if stern-sounding speaker, and talked in sweeping grandiose statements. I didn’t hear anything that connected, and as a business-focused guy he’s a bit out of place in a socialist party. He comes off as someone who wants to be the left-wing Herman Cain, but while he tries to mimic that type of inspirational style, he doesn’t have Herman’s polish or joviality. Better than I expected but not amazing.
So – final conclusion? Nothing really changes. Everybody is about who we thought they were, and the only real surprises were Nathan Cullen being so good and Romeo Saganash being so nervous. We’ll have to watch to see if Cullen gets more traction, but seeing as the debate was at 2 PM on a Sunday, I doubt it.