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French Debate: Stephen Harper does the Rope-a-Dope

Stephen Harper played defence for two hours during last night's French language debate. Appearing tranquillized himself, he tried to lull viewers into a zen state in which they would not think that cuts to the arts, locking up 14 year olds for long sentences, and dismantling gun control were all that bad.

Gilles Duceppe got off the best lines of the encounter when he charged that under Harper there would be more guns in circulation and more fourteen year olds behind bars in prisons he called universities for crime. Stephane Dion was likable and confident easily exceeding the low expectations that had been set for him. Held back by her relatively poor French, Elizabeth May did manage some effective shots at Harper. Expect more from her tonight in English.

Jack Layton spoke well, but his constant references to the day when he will be prime minister were a little cringe provoking. On the war, he was clear--the NDP is the only party, he said, that favours withdrawing Canadian troops from Afghanistan now. On petroleum, he was vague and disappointing. A viewer from Caraquet, New Brunswick asked whether the time had come to nationalize the petroleum industry. Layton said no, the NDP does not wish to nationalize the industry. Rather, he said, the party wanted action. Pushed from the left in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the NDP favoured the creation of a publicly owned petroleum company. The party took credit for the establishment of Petro-Canada by the Trudeau government. Now the NDP doesn't give the idea of public ownership in the petroleum sector a glance. It's a sign of how far the party has moved away from the left. (In case anyone retorts that public ownership is out of favour these days, let me point out that the proportion of global petroleum held by state owned companies is on the rise and now exceeds eighty per cent.)

I expect Harper's handlers to take him off valium and put him on caffeine for tonight's encounter.

[This is likely my last post on the campaign. I'm leaving for England first thing tomorrow on a trip planned long before Harper pulled the plug. Thanks to rabble.ca for inviting me to participate on this site. I've learned a great deal from my fellow bloggers. It's good to know that there are a lot of us on the progressive side in these turbulent times.]

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