#5 Adding and Subtracting, where are we at?

There were entertaining television shows throughout North America on October 2.  The American networks combined to pilot the new Sarah Palin Show while Canadian networks did the best they could with the Elizabeth May Follies.  The Canadians always seem to get the less entertaining stuff.

But to be fair, the Republicans south of the border had far more to lose than their Conservative counterparts in Canada.  They obviously spent a great deal of money on the voice and script coaches for vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.  They almost turned the poor woman into a parody of middle America.  Her twangy ‘you betchas’ were targeted for a Nascar audience and made Joe Biden, her democrat opponent, look like he wished he had swallowed his hemlock before the debate instead of being allowed it afterwards.

Yet, one can only wonder how many Nascar devotees are avid watchers of vice presidential debates?  They would be the only people likely to be sympathetic to Palin.  She was so obviously far out of her depth.  Biden, in turn, got full marks for holding his temper, being polite and not being patronizing.  After his diplomatic performance in that debate, Obama will wish that Biden could also serve as the U.S. Secretary of State.

So, who won the American debate?  The answer to that is it was the only person who could win: Senator Barack Obama.  There are two more debates between Senators McCain and Obama to go but barring McCain, figuratively, pulling a gun and shooting his opponent during one of the debates, Obama is sliding to an easy victory in November.  The simple reasons are the American economy and George W. Bush.

Yet the 1000-pound gorilla, representing the Canadian economy, sitting at the table during the Canadian debate in Ottawa the same evening, has been ignored by most Canadian commentators.  Many pundits believe that Stephen Harper controlled the English language debate despite Stéphane Dion winning the previous evening’s French-language go.  Yet, it was Elizabeth May of the Green Party, unhampered by her weak French-language skills of the previous evening, who surprised viewers with both her command of non-environmental matters and tenacious attacks on Stephen Harper..

Pundits are making much of Harper’s equanimity after these repeated attacks on his handling of the economy and his lack of a strategy.  They have obviously never heard of ‘death by a thousand cuts.’  Jack Layton of the NDP said it best for Canadians about Harper’s approach to the economy when in the debate he said to Harper. “Either you don’t care or you are incompetent. Which is it?”

The debate in English did not go to Liberal Dion.  His English was adequate when he acted professorial but his rushed, emotional statements were lost to the average English-speaking viewer.  He also appeared hurt and at a loss for words at some of the insults slung at him by Conservative Harper and the NDP’s Jack Layton.  The best laugh of the evening went to Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois when he was asked, in turn, how he would answer a question as Prime Minister.  He responded, quite logically, that he never expected to be Prime Minister of Canada but he expected that neither would Dion, Layton or May.

Duceppe was reading the polls and the flow of the election to the logical conclusion that Harper would be the winner on October 14.  The good news is that, if the debates have any impact, they point to another Conservative minority government.

The logic is that Duceppe knows that the Conservative strategy has failed in Quebec.  Neither the Bloc nor the Liberals will give up many seats to the Conservatives in that province.  The defining moment for the Conservatives in Quebec was the exposure they were given for taking money from the arts.  On top of bleeding manufacturing jobs in the province, without help from Ottawa, cutting back on the arts was the last straw.  That was attacking the very soul of Quebec.

Similarly, the Liberals are likely to hold most of their present seats in the Atlantic Provinces.  Harper does not seem to understand our eastern provinces and needs to pick his fights with the premiers there a little more carefully.

Ontario is only a question mark because of the slide of Liberal votes to the NDP could allow some Conservative wins.  The five or six seats that he could gain this way do not spell a majority for Harper.  Strategic voting could block the Conservative wins but nobody has ever figured out how to make strategic voting work in this country’s multi-party political environment.

The Prairies belong largely to Harper’s Reform base of the Conservative Party and as they have the oil and mineral wealth—despite the falling commodity prices—they are unlikely to make any changes.

That leaves British Columbia voters enjoying their wild card position for a change this election.  If Dion and the Liberals crash and burn there, expect the NDP to become Canada’s official opposition to a minority Conservative government.

But there are still a couple weeks to go.  There are often surprises.

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