It's hard to tell who objectively won last night's debate between the four federal party leaders. Harper was calm and level, cold, perhaps. He was the only leader who addressed the camera directly. He avoided speaking to the other leaders, and directed his comments at the Canadian people. Ignatieff's emotions were in play, and he sometimes stumbled over his words as he spoke in a passion. Layton was the only one who tried to occasionally put humour into his comments. He was almost funny on occasion, but never quite. Duceppe was Duceppe.
For sheer, stunning hypocrisy, the clear winner, though by a hair, was Harper, who, after single handedly lowering the level of political debate in this country; who has run attack ad campaigns and ad hominem attacks on his opponents for the last five years, whether there was an election going on or not; who has been found by the speaker of the House to be in contempt of parliament; and more, claimed that Canadians are tired of the mudslinging and personal attacks in parliament, and presented himself as the man to do it.
The debate was a wandering affair. The leaders began to address specific questions, then slowly swerved away into what soon became standardised attacks on each other, along with repetitions of the party platforms. There were no moments of stirring oratory, or anything particularly inspiring.
Layton in particular seemed fond of running off on tangents. At one point he raised the spectre of proportional democracy, which, like most of the NDP ideas is a bad idea masquerading as a good one. As I wrote in the past, proportional democracy sounds like a wonderful idea, and therefore I am against it. The NDP in particular are full of interesting ideas that sound really good in theory, but I have seen in the past that theoretically true ideas are very, very often practically false. I prefer a more pragmatic approach.
I haven't seen the newspapers this morning, but I imagine the papers will proclaim their preferred candidates the clear winner of the debate. Most viewers of the debate will probably go that way. People, I find, tend to watch these things to confirm the opinion they already hold, rather than to help themselves form a new one. Those who favour Harper will conclude that Harper kicked the others to the curb last night. Those who favour Ignatieff will see him as the clear winner, and so on. For myself, I see the leaders as a bunch of losers to begin with, and that's what I saw last night.