Politics from North of the 49th Parallel
Published on June 17, 2004 By IanGillespie In Politics

The further we get from last night's performance the more difficult it becomes to digest.

The lasting impact of our national debates hasn't been made in the moment, but in the foundations laid for the coming days.

What are politicians selling, what are voters buying -- and what is this god forsaken election really all about?

Measuring the leaders' debate by that standard reveals a microcosm of the election at large. Our national discourse is bereft of policy, as the leaders jockey to define the ballot question rather than the issues.

Stephen Harper has run a one issue campaign, he fought a one issue debate -- scandal.

Give credit where credit is due: this strategy has accomplished what once seemed impossible -- a competitve election campaign. However, it is may also be why the Conservatives and Liberals remain deadlocked -- even as Canadians insist that it's 'time for a change'.

Exceedingly effective at drawing down Liberals, Harper has failed to offer Canadians a reason to vote for his own party -- last night, he failed to do so once again.

Somewhat arrogantly, Stephen Harper believes that voters see the Tories as the naturally governing alternative in Canada. Arrogant though he may be, he may also be right.

In sharp contrast, Paul Martin flailed about in last night's debate. He has done much the same during the length of the campaign.

I will not revisit Paul Martin's failure to deliver on his promise of a 'bold vision for Canada', except to say that such failure is heard in the deafening emptiness of the Prime Minister's rhetoric.

When historians study the fall of the Martin dynasty, this is where they'll begin.

Far more focused, Jack Layton spent the debate building a case for his ultimate conclusion, an argument that I've often promoted here:

Why should Canadians choose between the Liberals who have broken their promises, and the Conservatives who never supported those promises to begin with?

Will this question alone carry the NDP to victory? Hardly.

But it's territory Liberals never should have ceded to the New Democrats -- and we won't be giving it back without a fight.

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