The English debates on Thursday night turned out to be much more exciting due to the inclusion of an additional debater in the televised debates.
No, no, I’m not referring to Elizabeth May, (although I thought her performance was both intelligent and effective).
No, I’m referring to Steve Paikin, the supposed ‘moderator’ of the debate.
Much to my disbelief, Paikin actually entered the debate himself after Stephen Harper reacted to Layton’s factually correct statement that Harper had been the head of an organization whose stated goal was (and still is) the destruction of Canada’s healthcare system.
Harper reacted by saying, “Let me just be very quick on this. I use the public health care system. My family uses the public health care system. In fact, in the last federal election campaign at one point it turned out I was the only national leader actually who had used exclusively the public health care system.” (source)
Harper was perfectly within his rights to make that point — in fact, in my opinion, it would have still been perfectly within his rights to even elaborate on the point and try to stick the knife into Layton further if he thought it would advance his case. That’s debating. That’s the whole point. At the same time though, Layton should have been perfectly within his right to retort that he didn’t pay for his hernia operation, it was covered through his OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) card and thus he never cue-jumped and never went outside the public health care system.
But what came next was completely unexpected. ‘Moderator’ Steve Paikin actually stopped the debate there and entered the debate himself. Just to make sure that the public understood precisely the reference that Stephen Harper was making, Steve Paikin not only repeated the claim himself, but further elaborated on it by giving the name of the clinic and so forth. Paikin thus saved Harper from having to get himself bloody, by personally ensuring that the knife was into Layton deep enough.
Layton, obviously flummoxed by being attacked on both sides by the moderator and the Conservative leader, only retorted that the grand daughter of Tommy Douglas (an NDP supporter) thinks that that qualifies as public health care.
In my opinion, Layton collapsed like a house of cards for about the next 20 minutes of the debate, clearly having lost the vigour, energy and confidence that had characterized his performance prior to the Paikin incident.
Because of this incident, I was shocked to learn that Layton had placed second (behind Harper) in the English language debate according to the polling firm Ipsos-Reid. I was certain that he would have fared much worse.
But then again, I thought that Gilles Duceppe slaughtered everyone else at the French Language debate, but Ipsos-Reid gave the debate to Dion (who I thought at best tied Harper for third behind Layton and Duceppe). I also thought that the English debate would have been called for Elizabeth May who, in my opinion, was the winner, but Ipsos had her in third.
I guess I should get out of the debate predicting business and stick to the polling and seat projection business.