Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces off against Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in Monday’s horrible English-language leaders’ debate (Photo: Screenshot).

The United States’ two-party political setup may not be much of a template for actual democracy, but at least it has lots of potential for interesting leaders’ debates.

A televised leaders’ debate in a vibrant multi-party democracy like Canada? Not so much.

Mr. Scheer launches into his opening tirade about Mr. Trudeau, seconds into answering his first question (Photo: Screenshot).

For one thing, you have to invite the leaders of far-right fringe parties and regional separatist parties, which is not particularly interesting at best and disturbing at worst. Many of us witnessed all this Monday night for as long as we could stand it.

Nevertheless, such events can be made even more boring, unenlightening and distasteful through the adoption of a lame formula, something at which the organizers of Canada’s English-language debate for would be prime ministers and potential holders of the balance of power obviously exceeded expectations.

These exercises in tedium and disingenuity are probably a necessary evil. So we’re all just going to have to suffer through them every four years or so, praying for one of those dramatic moments when someone says something so cripplingly stupid a well-briefed interlocutor can swoop in for the kill.

Who can forget hapless Republican Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush’s running mate, telling the 1988 vice-presidential debate in Omaha, Neb., that he would have more experience coming into office as president (in the unfortunate event Mr. Bush punched the proverbial ticket while on the job) than did John F. Kennedy? Equally memorable: the smirk on the face of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrats’ VP candidate, as he prepared to insert the banderillas:

“Senator, I served with JFK. I knew JFK. JFK was a friend of mine. Senator …” (beat… beat…) “you’re no Jack Kennedy!”

Democratic Party vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen smirks as he waits to use the line he just thought up to utterly destroy Republican Dan Quayle in 1988 (Photo: Screenshot).

The cheers of the crowd were as much in admiration for the sheer joy of the slapdown as from base partisanship. Who says boxing is the sweet science?

Even then-Alberta-premier Jim Prentice’s famed “math is difficult” moment in 2015, as he defended his deceptive calculation of the size of a proposed NDP business tax increase, was such a moment. Not so much because of NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s evisceration of the man, though. She hardly bothered. It was her giggles at the stupidity of his remark that made the moment memorable.

So it was disheartening to hear Andrew Scheer’s response to the first question of the debate Monday afternoon was to pivot in mere seconds away from his answer to the actual query to delivering a tirade attacking prime minister Justin Trudeau as if it were one of those ripostes that, ever so infrequently, make debates momentarily interesting.

The question: “How would you effectively defend both the interests and the values of Canadians on the world stage?”

Mr. Scheer devoted 26 words to his answer. He then used the rest of his time to badmouth Mr. Trudeau for a litany of sins, real and imagined. “Mr. Trudeau, you’re a phoney, and you’re a fraud, and you don’t deserve to govern this country.”

This from a guy who lied on his resume, fibbed about his education, and somehow forgot to mention his citizenship status to Canadians!

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley giggles at the way then-premier Jim Prentice had just shot himself in the foot in the 2015 provincial leaders’ debate (Photo: Screenshot).

Who needs this stuff? At that moment, about a minute into the proceedings, you could almost hear TV remotes across the nation clicking for something more meaningful and engaging. RuPaul’s Drag Race, maybe, the Weather Channel, or the Home Shopping Network.

Needless to say, what Mr. Scheer was doing was not a debating technique. It was more akin, I would suggest, to punching your opponent at the start of a high school wrestling match while the referee was still explaining the rules and admonishing the adversaries to make a clean fight of it.

But the intention, obviously, was to introduce a faux riposte early in the debate that could be instantly clipped from the video, converted to an Internet meme, and posted along with a fatuous declaration of victory moments after the so-called debate had ended.

This is pretty much what the Conservatives did, of course. Unsurprisingly, according to Mr. Scheer’s Rebel Media trained campaign experts, he won the debate.

The effect, needless to say, will be that other parties will adopt the same strategy – out of necessity, knowing the Conservatives are bound to cheat the same way again. Whatever little utility these messy debates have will be further degraded.

But you can’t say there was nothing to be learned from this so-called debate. We all now know a shabby new rhetorical trick.

As for the actual debating, what little there was of it, I say NDP leader Jagmeet Singh won, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May got the best lines.

For his part, Mr. Trudeau avoided setting anyone up to humiliate him, and thereby likely won the actual contest. Final judgment on that assessment will be available in a couple of weeks.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party of Canada? I covered them in the third paragraph.

Disorder in the House!

The Alberta Legislature got back to business yesterday, and it’s nice to know that high on the agenda is a government motion to lend more decorum to the proceedings in the House.

I jest, of course.

Just try wearing this in the Alberta Legislature and see what happens (Photo:

I am speaking of the motion brought forth by House Leader Jason Nixon resolving that the Legislature express its support for Alberta’s oil and gas industry (there will be no objections on that point in that assembly) by encouraging “individuals who show their support by wearing pro-Canadian oil and gas apparel, including when visiting the Alberta Legislature….”

Sad to say, this nonsense would almost certainly pass even if the Conservatives didn’t have a majority.

This was apparently cooked up by the brainiacs on Premier Jason Kenney’s strategic A-Team in response to the fact a visitor was asked to remove such a T-shirt before touring the Senate Chamber in Ottawa last month. This was acknowledged to be an error by the Parliamentary Protective Service, but it was blown into a massive brouhaha by a compliant media anyway.

Now Alberta Speaker Nathan Cooper will take it a step further by effectively allowing sartorial demonstrations in the public galleries — as long as they’re in favour of positions advocated by the government.

Needless to say, allowing gallery visitors to dress up in T-shirts supporting the government will lead to similar demonstrations against the government’s policies and actual protests with shouting and thrown objects when those demonstrators are instructed to remove their T-shirts or leave, with civil and criminal legal proceedings to follow. At best, this will be embarrassing.

Past speakers have insisted on proper decorum in the public galleries. Worn objects that might be construed as protests were pretty much restricted to cowboy boots and lapel pins, and the rules were applied the same way to all. Those days are gone.

Nothing to see here, people, move along please …

Peter Singh and friend (Photo: Facebook).

Also on the first day of the new sitting, the UCP moved to appoint Calgary-East MLA Peter Singh to membership on the Standing Committee on the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

Mr. Singh is under investigation by the Office of the Election Commissioner and the RCMP after allegations of bribery and fraud in a candidate nomination election last year. He denies the allegations.

The Heritage Fund contains assets of about $18 billion.

Mr. Nixon dismissed NDP Opposition concerns as “fear and smear politics.”

Seriously, I’m not making any of this up!

Join the Conversation


  1. It is not for no good reason Liberals often called Mr. Scheer, “Harper with a smile”. His pleasant demeanor was his greatest political asset and helped win him the Conservative leadership. He seemed pleasant and innocous enough, that is until he threw that image away and tried to go for Trudeau’s jugular at the start of the only debate most Canadians will watch. He ended up sounding a bit like the most mean spirited and partisan of Harper’s attack dogs. Its probably not good for their political fortunes that the Conservatives inadvertently remind us of that at this moment.

    Now, perhaps Mr. Trudeau had it coming and the nation probably wanted him to clearly receive the message that we have been disappointed with him. In any event, Trudeau took the shot fairly well. However, in putting out your best shot, there is an art of timing. The blow might have been more effective in a moment when Mr. Trudeau said something to over extend himself, rather than an unprovoked attack before he actually said anything.

    However, it did set the tone for the entire debate which was bitter and nasty on all sides, with not much respect shown all around. Mr. Trudeau held back a bit initially, but later returned several shots to Scheer. I think the format could be better, too many peripheral participants, too many tangental responses and yes, way too much cross talk.

    Sadly for Mr. Scheer, despite his new more assertive and aggressive approach, few thought he won the debate. He hit Trudeau as hard as he could, but there was no knock out. I hope at least the organizers have now figured how not to do a debate. Perhaps in several years someone will remember this sad attempt and do it better. It would be hard to do it much worse.

  2. If are fathers and grandfathers were brave enough to dodge Nazi bullets to preserve the right to vote etc then surely to goodness current day Canadians should be able to slog through a debate. In fact, it should be made mandatory. Failing that, how about issuing a tax credit.

    Or how about $50 Tim Hortons gift card courtesy of the Heritage Fund which apparently is now in the hands of a fiscal wheeler dealer named Singh (no relation to Jag).

  3. Trudeau’s team surely talked about potential faux outrage from Sheer. When Trudeau ignored the froth at the sides of Sheer’s mouth it made you think of Andy’s hypocricy. I wonder how many other people made the connection. What you saw was a leader vs a Trumpaloony .

    This debate got the reformatories what they want, a suppressed vote.

    This debate got what the networks think is good TV, thud and blunder.

  4. The debate was a gong show no one really won, Singh looked okay, Trudeau probably was the closest to a winner for not losing it on Scheer. May unfortunately doesn’t show well in these types of things. Maxime was there so that’s a win for him the BQ guy is certainly no Duceppe. Scheer appeared like Harper with less personality what you would expect from an insurance broker or salesman, or maybe just guy that worked in the office who knows. What the debate did show, in my opinion, is we really lack leadership in this country. Given the format would an intelligent articulate leader even be able to shine though?

  5. Scheer’s foreign policy is a mishmash of the Cold War, the British Empire and Bible stories, so changing the subject was a smart move.

  6. 3rd paragraph? What third paragraph? I don’t recall no third paragraph!

    Perhaps Jagmeet and Elizabeth took the podium because they were the only 2 there, including moderators, who had something to say about actual circumstances.

  7. “But the intention, obviously was to introduce a faux riposte early in the debate that could be instantly clipped from the video, converted to an Internet meme, and posted along with a fatuous declaration of victory moments after the so-called debate had ended.”

    Mr. Scheer invoked Trumpian methods by hurling personal insults into his attack on Mr. Trudeau. But why did he stop with simple schoolyard name calling like “phoney” and “fraud?” If he really wanted to go full Donald, he could have included really good stuff for his red meat base like “dumb as a rock”, “wacky and deranged” and one of Trump’s favourites, “slime ball.”

    Come on, Andrew, you could have done much better.

  8. It’s curious how many debate-watchers complained of leaders “talking over each other”. I dunno—is it because I’m from BC that my own take was the opposite? After all, we here in the Panhandle-stopper province have seen our own leaders’ debate start, proceed and end with incessant, unintelligible bickering many, many times.

    The six-way, multiple-moderator format was different and interesting, as far as these debates go. I thought the number of laughs and moments of collegial camaraderie was remarkable; they all happened during bumps in the complicated debating procedure.

    Not only that: I can’t recall ever seeing so many leaders acknowledge in a semi-congratulatory way other leaders’ platforms. Some were charmingly backhanded: Blanchet approved of JT’s SNC-Lavelin move but allowed that he just did it the wrong way; May prayed aloud to the PM that he win only a minority; and everybody paid homage to Jagmeet Singh’s firsthand, personally-targeted experience with racism. Thus the hypocrisy of the two right-wing parties whose leaders associate with rampant anti-immigrant bigots was illustratively exposed (Scheer’s acknowledgement to Singh was as long as a penitential confession after which he may sin again; Bernier’s very presence inspired Singh’s only bitter remark—that the xenophobe shouldn’t even be on the stage).

    The best line was Singh’s quip after a few of the moderators confused his and Scheer’s names: “I wore an orange turban special for tonight—what does it take [to look different than Scheer]?” I laughed, anyway.

    I really don’t want the ScheerCons to become government so was glad Bernier’s performance was fairly solid and should attract some of the bigots in the Con party who probably voted for him to be leader. Right-wing voters are more likely tactical-voting’s strategic target, not practitioners themselves, so it could be some of them don’t really get vote-splitting and will split the neo-right by voting their first preference as a result. The more Bernier erodes ScheerCon support, the more I like it.

    Scheer’s opening odium might have been staged for subsequent campaign propaganda, but it sank him for the rest of the debate: so mean-spirited and predictable—exactly what his base wants—the one Scheer has to protect from Bernier’s pilfering. I remain convinced most Canadians will be turned off by Scheer’s ostentatious, hypocritical negativity and ad hominem against JT. He could do worse and whip out a niqab to blunt Bernier’s simpler anti-immigrant rhetoric.

    Here on the Big Island, we know all about vote-splitting; here it’s the Conservatives who benefit by vote-splitting between Greens and Dippers. The big difference between Green-Dipper splits and ScheerCon-People’s Party splits is that we have a lot more experience out here. In the last federal and provincial elections, Green vote-counts were conspicuously lower than the party had polled prior to either election, meaning many Greens do understand how vote-splitting works and are willing to vote tactically for the NDP to prevent the most environmentally unfriendly party from winning candidates or government.

    It was educative to watch Elizabeth May break a cardinal rule as she continues to pull out all the stops in her final, do-or-die election: once again she deigned to presume a minority government and a supremely influential balance-of-power position for her party, and hers alone. But that’s a no-no which, nevertheless, she seems to have calculated to be an acceptable risk in the desperate circumstance—the risk of eroding Green volunteers’ morale, of inciting complacency or riling resentments from soft supporters, the foolhardiness perfectly matching another, equally risky presumption: that she’ll be okay working with a ScheerCon minority (perhaps she regrets making that statement early on—she seemed to prefer a Liberal minority during the debate—she poignantly told Scheer he will never be Prime minister— again risking volunteer and supporter loyalty by uttering such baseless prognostications). Memo to Ms May: voters will decide what the result will be and it’s always bad form for a leader to insinuate a coalition or speculate on a balance-of-power situation before voters have spoken.

    As a Big Island Dipper I take exception to May’s misleading rhetoric that it’s time for all Green-minded voters to vote their preference, “without fear”—the kind of fear that pro-reppers like her characterize FPtP tactical-voting as being systemically forced upon the electorate, an evil and undemocratic vote against, rather than for, a party or candidate. Memo to voters: in almost all ridings a Green vote will not elect a Green candidate, and in many ridings, especially on Van Isle and the West Coast Mainland where Liberals don’t much figure, a Green vote will ensure the Conservative candidate wins. In the latter case, Greens would further their professed environmental ethos by voting tactically for the candidate most likely to beat the Con candidate. That’s especially true on the Big Island where Greens have been emboldened by relatively high polling numbers—the highest in Canada—yet not high enough in most of these ridings to elect a Green unless every single traditional NDP voter switches parties. Considering the NDP holds second or first place in most Van Isle ridings, that kind of conversion seems most unlikely. May has toned down her more overt electoral-reform sour-grapes rhetoric but keeps alluding to it by telling voters to ignore the fact that we still have FPtP and ignore the fact that tactical-voting is therefore a legitimate consideration for every voter to make, not the devil incarnate that pro-reppers campaign on during electoral reform debates and referenda.

    All in all I found the debate informative and probably helpful: it will probably increase vote-splitting between Scheer’s and Bernier’s parties in favour of neither, and decrease vote-splitting between Greens and Dippers which would otherwise only favour the ScheerCons. Well done!

    PS: my kid brother and I agreed by text that if we had our druthers after watching the debate we’d both vote for Althea Raj.
    He said he was glad when it was over. But he’s a “Buck-a-Beer” guy—perhaps now regretfully so—and I naturally have more to say about almost anything political. Ms Raj is, of course, the Huff Post’s political analyst.

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