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Good format, real issues

The format of the French language t.v. debate, with leaders seated around a table and with taped questions from electors, allowed for a range of real issues to be covered.

It was a relief to hear discussion of Afghanistan at the end, since it's been so missing in the election so far. Stephane Dion flailed about and had trouble defending Liberal support for extension of Canada's involvement to 2011. Elizabeth May was unclear about when, or even whether, the Greens would withdraw Canadian troops. Gilles Duceppe used the opportunity of a voter question on Afghanistan to attack the N.D.P. Only Jack Layton was clear in his firm opposition to the mission, which has to be helpful for N.D.P. prospects. Of course, Stephen Harper defended his support for the discredited mission.

Greenhouse gas reduction policy came up several times. All opposition leaders were able to effectively criticize outrageous Conservative policies that will clearly make the problem worse.

There were good exchanges on guns, culture, health care and the economy.

Elizabeth May held her own given her challenges with the French language. Stephane Dion was alternately professorial and agitated. Gilles Duceppe did well as he often does in these debates and his line about the young offender "University of Crime" was effective. Jack Layton was comfortable and consistently addressed his points directly to Stephen Harper. As promised, he asked Harper to repeat in French his insulting comments about artists, but Harper dodged.

Stephen Harper's pasted on smile rarely left his face. He was determined to try not to lose his cool, but try as he might he couldn't help some chippy and partisan attacks on those he disagrees with. The partisan labelling of a writer for the Canadian Medical Association as "a Liberal" was a low point for Harper.

During tomorrow night's English language debate, watch for May to do better in her first language (and for the mainstream media to declare her the winner just for being there), Layton to press Harper more aggressively, Dion to increase his attacks on the N.D.P. and for Duceppe to once again make many viewers outside Quebec wish they could vote Bloc. As for Harper...well, he'll just keep on being calm, cool and oh so dangerous.

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