Liberal Speed Dating Helps Voters Make Their Choice

Trudeau Findlay
While the sit-down interview format of the last “debate” served as a nice introduction, the timid questions served up by Harvey Locke didn’t give us any sense of how the candidates would perform in the heat of an election campaign.

Saturday, we were treated to a series of short two-way and three-way debates, with many of the questions asked by the candidates themselves. Yes, a few of the exchanges were so pleasant you’d think you were watching Liberal speed dating – as Karen McCrimmon playfully remarked at one point, “another opportunity for radical agreement“. But there were also difficult, substantive questions. Regardless of where Deborah Coyne ranks on your leadership ballot, she proved herself to be a fantastic moderator. Going head-to-head with Justin Trudeau, who dwarfs her both literally and figuratively, she held her ground asking him where he stood on granting Quebec special powers for immigration. After Marc Garneau dodged her question about the need for a national referendum on electoral reform, Coyne forcefully pressed him for an answer.

The more confrontational nature of the debate led to flubbed answers, awkward moments, and even a few boos. Joyce Murray and George Takach had a gawky exchange where Murray derisively referred to Takach as a “Bay Street Lawyer” with “experience off-shoring jobs to China”, prompting Takach to shoot back by belittling her work planting trees. When Takach tossed out another jab later in the debate, solidifying himself as the “anti-tree” candidate, he was met with smattered boos. Given the race isn’t going to come down to a Takach-Murray final ballot, this melee likely didn’t do either of them any favours.

Not every segment contained political oration that moved and inspired, but as a genuinely undecided Liberal member, this is exactly what I was looking for in a debate. By putting candidates’ feet to the fire, it became clear who could handle the heat of an election campaign and who would be deep fried by Harper and Mulcair during a federal election debate.

So we learned that Deborah Coyne knows her shit, Joyce Murray has a lot of bold ideas, Marc Garneau can be affable, and Martha Hall Findlay is confident. But the candidate who really impressed was Justin Trudeau.

No one has ever denied Justin’s talent and potential, but the ballot question of the entire race has been whether or not he’s ready for the big leagues.

Admittedly, debating Harper and Mulcair is an entirely different thing than debating David Bertschi and Karen McCrimmon, but Trudeau held his ground. After a shaky first exchange with Marc Garneau on his qualifications for the job, Trudeau bounced back in a big way. He answered Deb Coyne’s immigration question by showing he knew the issues, mixing reason and passion into his response. Responding to criticism he lacks substance, he sprinkled in policy nuggets on eliminating boutique tax credits and giving the federal government a larger role in education. No, there were no specifics, much to the chagrin of some of us, but it was meatier than the usual “help the middle class” platitudes.

Which brings us to the defining moment of the debate. In one of the final exchanges, Martha Hall Findlay moved in to attack Trudeau over the “middle class” focus of his campaign. Her point was a valid one – that we should aspire to be a classless society, and that a focus on the middle class leaves the less fortunate behind. However, Findlay turned her critique into an aggressive jab at Trudeau’s upbringing, telling him he couldn’t understand middle class issues, sine he wasn’t a member of it. Prefacing a call for a class-free society with a class-based attack was classless, and the crowd responded with another round of boos.

Trudeau seized the moment, responding with an eloquent and emotional rebuttal, pointing to his experiences as an MP in Papineau. It was a clip that would have led off every newscast had it occurred during a federal leaders debate.

There are still many questions about whether or not Justin is up for the job, but he answered a few of them Saturday.

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52 responses to “Liberal Speed Dating Helps Voters Make Their Choice”

    • Honestly, the Conservatives are going to attack whichever leader the Liberals have, if they feel like doing so. They have the money to do it, and so as long as they perceive the Liberal Party as a threat, they will attack it. So Liberals are either going to have to defend their leader or ignore the attacks, regardless of whether Trudeau is that leader. For heaven’s sake, look at the ridiculous attacks they’ve been doing on Mulcair and the NDP. They didn’t even really use ammunition they were given. They just invented an evil carbon tax and that was good enough.

      I don’t think Liberals should be choosing their leader based mainly on fear of attack. That is letting the Conservatives set the Liberal agenda, which is just crazy.

      • I think potential Conservative attacks are only worth taking into account insofar as they’re based on valid criticisms.

        For example, I think the Conservative lines that Ignatieff was “just visiting” and that “he didn’t come back for YOU” were successful, because there was an uncomfortable amount of truth behind them. As a result, they resonated strongly with the average Canadian voter.

        So when the Conservatives (and NDP) use a similar line of attack on Trudeau – say, that he’s a likeable but out-of-touch rich kid who’s just coasting on his famous name and doesn’t actually have what it takes to lead Canada – how true is it?

        • That is a valid way to look at it, certainly. I just don’t think we should read Ezra Levant and decide on a leader based on his views, of all people’s.

          • Ezra’s column is a wake up call and a gift to Liberals.

            It’s fairly mild compared to what we can expect in an election.

            If Liberals proceed with the Trudeau coronation, the party will continue to decline, perhaps beyond repair.

            At the very least, the real rebuilding of the party will be delayed for a further 5 years.

          • @Chris

            Do you really think it will be that bad, as in Trudeau = Liberal doomsday? There are certainly many others who feel quite the opposite. I personally don’t think a Trudeau, Garneau, or Hall Finley win are doomsday scenarios. None of them might be magic enough to effect a Liberal win in 2015, but I doubt any of them will rule out a Liberal win in the future.

        • well we at the very least know what the attack ads in Alberta are going to say if Justin wins, because the words will come straight from Justin’s mouth.

          there’s no question that the “Just Visiting” ads were devastating and discredited Ignatieff from the start. he had no chance. can there be a similarly devastating attack against Justin (or any other candidate)? this is a serious question to think about. the lobs yesterday were all small potatoes compared to what’s likely coming from both the right and the left. let’s not kid ourselves – politics is fueled by perception, now moreso than ever before.

          i still think Liberal’s best LONG-TERM chances rest with Marc or Martha.

          that said, my perception of Joyce Murray improved considerably yesterday (she had the upper hand over George Takach in my eyes). i just don’t get where she thinks she’s going with this NDP cooperation thing, cause Mulcair has clearly stated his ambitions to go it alone next election. if Nathan Cullen had won (which he might have if they had a delegated convention) it would be a different story, but we know Mulcair tastes blood and it’s going to be a battle.

          • Agreed about the Ignatieff attacks and Trudeau’s very poorly worded Alberta comments. On the attacks though, Liberals haven’t exactly defended themselves in a big public way, have they? Nor did they manage to define their leader in advance of the attacks. So, while they were damaging, perhaps the damage could have been reduced with some proactive advertising/messaging, and a real defence effort. Whether there’s money for that is another story.

            And assure yourself there are going to be attacks no matter what. The question is, I think, as Vancouverois put it, for which candidate is enough truth and substance to the attacks for them to matter, and how does the importance of attacks weigh against other factors (leadership presence, policy preferences, experience, fundraising potential, whatever matters to you).

          • I get Joyce hyping the cooperation thing from a tactical standpoint, since it’s going to get her some votes in this race. But you’re right that the issue seems to be effectively dead in the water until after the next election.

            Of course, Peter McKay signed a “no merger” deal 6 months before agreeing to a merger, so never say never.

        • At least as far as the “out of touch rich kid” thing goes, I don’t think that will have much purchase. Being born rich *can* lead to that, but it’s not sufficient in and of itself (which is more or less what MHF’s statement here amounted to).

          The “out of touch rich guy” attack worked devastatingly well against Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney gave every indication of having no idea how ordinary Americans live, while advocating policies that would demonstrably harm them. While there are still question marks around Justin’s leadership skills in some areas, I’ve never seen anyone seriously question his empathy. Indeed, he’s gotten very high marks on interactions with ordinary people, and campaigning in (as he noted) a very low-income riding.

          • There are different versions of the attack. Trudeau is probably more likely to resemble the Dubya version of the attack. Something like… Trudeau is a lightweight, whose family’s wealth and influence enabled a series of dilettantish pursuits, a desire for 64 Sussex Drive being only the latest.

            By the way, I’m not saying that’s what an attack ad would say, only that it’s the impression an attack ad would try to build.
            My guess as to a possible attack ad… just contrast Justin Trudeau speaking with his dad.

            e.g. some speech where Pierre tears the separatists a new one contrasted with Justin Trudeau saying he’d back Quebec separatists under some conditions.

        • Bingo.

          The Tories will attack. I think it’s fair to consider that when choosing a leader.

          The question is whether or not the attacks will resonate, and how well the Liberal leader will be able to fight back and defend himself/herself.

    • IMO, *assuming* Levant’s article is accurate, then Trudeau looks like someone who’s going to owe a lot of powerful entities favours should he become PM. Then there’s the bit about charging elementary and high schools $10K or $20K a pop for speeches – that’s a hard circle to square for someone who’s talking about service to country. (Personally, if it were a high school my kids went to, I’d be pissed at the idiots that agreed to pay that money).

      So, the only choices I see for Trudeau are
      1) if Levant’s article is not accurate, show how, or
      2) prepare to meet the charges head on, because they will come

      My 2 cents

      • And a good two cents they are. The membership/’supportership’ needs to weigh these considerations and every other factor when they decide. Are these attacks going to be bad enough or unrecoverable enough to outweigh Trudeau’s merits? I haven’t decided yet.

  1. I have to agree that I didn’t think MHF looked good in that exchange: it did seem unduly agressive. I share her dislike for all this talk about “the middle class” – I see it as the same kind of motherhood fluff as talk about education – but the way she kept talking over his initial attempts to respond was rude.

    JT’s response did indeed come off well – except that he strode off the stage immediately afterward, before the debate period was officially up. I thought that made him look overly emotional, as though he was having problems with self-control.

  2. I enjoyed the debate immensely. I knew next to nothing about Bertschi, but he impressed me. Cauchon should have made up his mind about running a lot earlier. He should be a contender, but his late start crushes his chances in a race to sign up supporters. With the exception of Marthas cheesy jabs at Trudeau, there were pleasant surprises all round. I just joined the Liberal Party recently, and this debate made me very comfortable with that decision to ditch the Green Party for good.

  3. @Vancouverois: I think you may have missed something when Trudeau strode off stage. The timer had gone off for that segment of the debate, so it was time to leave the podium but the moderator gave Coyne an extra 10 seconds due to the booing of the crowd cutting her time short. That made his return to the stage a little awkward.

    • Ah, okay. Thanks for clarifying that. I didn’t really believe that JT felt he had to get off the stage before he decked MHF, but it’s good to know there was another reason!

  4. Hall Findlay lost me with her personal attack… But she certainly helped define Harper’s secret soldiers’ meme going forward. I thought Trudeau defended his points, for the most, very well. I thought Murray and coyne were strong, and takacs quick on his feet. It was a format that was newsworthy and compelling; it would help a lot if 2 or 3 quit now.

  5. MHF is going to resonate with Canadians who incurred debt to get their university education. She had to do that herself and paid back her student loans.

    Justin never had to do that.

    That is the essence of her message.

    The Conservative campaign in 2006 focussed on who truly represented ordinary Canadians (The Tim Horton’s crowd).

    Expect the same in 2015

  6. as a mentor of mine’s once said, every personality trait is both a strength and a weakness. i have been following Martha’s campaign closely, and while i absolutely agree with her that the Liberals need to show a greater courage of conviction (I happen to think liberal principles are real and not just whatever is between conservatives and socialists/social democrats, and those principles need a true defender), sometimes courage can be rashness, and i have been thinking that she has been maybe acting a little rash lately. for example i wasn’t sure if talking about raising the GST when you’re not planning on doing it anytime soon is really worth the fight when there are so many more immediate things to talk about and public perceptions to maintain. i mean, i happen to think she was right, but maybe i just don’t have as much energy as her to talk up a storm about a GST hike (offset by income tax reductions) that may or may not happen depending on these 20 things 15 years from now.

    anyways, as much as the Martha/Justin exchange showed us that Justin can fight back (though i honestly think that was pretty small potatoes compared to what’s likely coming from Harper and Mulcair in a general election, and Justin is still far, far, far from being tested), i’m also pretty sure it was a good lesson for Martha. she’s likely aware the reaction to her attack wasn’t all that positive and cost her some momentum. she’ll dial back, so for her sake, i’m glad this happened. i thnk she’s an excellent candidate, and still is an excellent candidate, but was veering a little too close to the “uh oh will she tip over the edge” territory lately (but never in one-on-one interviews, where she is consistently EXCELLENT, as is evident from all the positive press she gets from them). i think she just gets a little too eager and excited about everyhting sometimes, which is actually what you want, as long as the person doesn’t go over the edge.

    Liberals definitely need courage, but Canadians also like nice people. (and Martha is definitely nice, but also gets a little too enthused and maybe has taken the “courage” thing a little TOO seriously lately).

    basically, in sum — i think they’re both stronger candidates because of yesterday.

    (i think Marc and Joyce are also stronger, for other reasons).

  7. Martha has not been as good as I thought she’d be. Her mixed messaging on tons of new taxes completely turned me off, and then she backtracked on them. She claims to have substance but that was a oral misstep.

    As for her attack on Trudeau, I don’t really know what to think. I think it cost her a lot of votes and she’ll have to put in a lot of work to try and regain those votes. She was battling it out for second place, which I think would have been good for the Liberals politically, but now I’m wondering if her attacks may have cost her a third place finish.

    Marc Garneau is Trudeau’s main competition now, and probably always was. He has probably run the best campaign in the sense that unlike Trudeau he hasn’t said anything stupid and unlike MHF he can attack without it getting personal and backfiring.

    Joyce Murray doesn’t even make sense to me.

    No candidate IMO has given a clear vision of the Liberal Party they’d lead. As well I think that is very much possible without be policy specific, because as Trudeau has alluded to the grassroots need to help with policies.

  8. There is an ethical issue that our political opponents will exploit.

    Justin charged speakers fees to universities, colleges and school boards while he was the Liberal critic for education.

    Ethically, that is just wrong.

    You can’t demand fees from those you are supposed to be advocating for as an MP in a critic’s role.

    Other MPs meet with universities, colleges and school boards and give speeches in their role as MPs, and they don’t charge for the service.

    Justin already has a history of poor judgement with a number of other incidents that are well documented.

    Liberals need to learn from our past experiences so we can begin the process of rebuilding the party.

    We can’t afford to waste resources defending a leader who is such an easy target.

    • I don’t think him charging people to speak was ethically wrong at all, second jobs are allowed for MPs. However, if he missed votes to work a second job I have an issue.

      • I’m not so sure about that. If he was indeed getting five-figure speaking fees from high schools and universities, it may be legal; but that doesn’t mean people will like it.

        And if he was doing so while he was supposed to be the Liberal critic for education, that makes the optics all the worse.

        In any case, it seems that the NDP at least may go after him on this point. We’ll see whether it resonates, and how much damage it does to him.

          • Does that matter? If he was doing it at the same time he held that position, it still looks pretty bad (IMHO).

            I suppose he could try saying that he was already booked as a speaker when he received the critic position, if that’s the case. I’m just not sure that would absolve him.

          • Ethically, it’s wrong.

            Particularly charging public agencies. Most politicians will talk anywhere, anytime, for little more than a sandwich and a photo op.

            I don’t think it’ll make much of an attack ad, though. It’s not something to worry about.

    • Speaking as a Tory, I think the Liberals would be stupid not to nominate Trudeau (that said, I suspect they will do so overwhelmingly). The speaker fees were cleared with the ethnics commissioner, and Trudeau’s past mistakes are priced into existing polls. Despite these weaknesses, Trudeau is polling at potential majority territory.

      Will Trudeau decline once placed in the spotlight? Probably. But at least he’ll decline from a relatively high point. Did Paul Martin win 50% of the vote in 2004, like the polls had predicted? No. But he held onto a solid plurality despite Adscam and a united right.

      Public interest in Trudeau, moreover, will mean lots of free media. In a country with tightly regulated election expenses, that’s huge. Although Mulcair is the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Trudeau will be able to take on that role de facto.

      Even if gaffes and mistakes prevent Trudeau from ousting the Tories outright, Trudeau’s polarizing nature works against the NDP. Plus he is the only Liberal candidate posting numbers that threaten the NDP’s Quebec stronghold.

      • @hoser: Yeah, I was scratching my head about the ‘speaking fees’ meme. It is pretty lame attack material. It is a whole lot easier to define someone with attack ads than it is to RE-DEFINE someone that everyone is familiar with. I would go so far as to say, bring it on! It does illustrate the point though, that Trudeau is a great speaker, and can raise a stinkload of money between now and the next election. Enough to hit back pretty damned hard I would say.

    • I agree there are plenty of targets on Justin’s back, but I don’t think the speaker fee thing is ever going to form the basis of an attack ad. It’s not illegal and I don’t see it as being overly unethical – if it was, there would have been a big storm raised over it, calls for him to appear before committee, etc.

      I’m not sure what the precedence is here, but I doubt there are many MPs who could actually command a speakers fee.

  9. I think Justin Trudeau is totally justified in charging speaking fees if the organizers of the event are charging admission. Other MPs may not require speaking fees, but that could be because they’re not a good enough draw to charge admission to. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the colleges, universities, etc. can actually use these events as fund-raisers…or at least break even.

    Personally, I wouldn’t pay an admission charge to see ANY politician spout off(they’re entirely too predictable!), but it takes all types, I guess. And the individuals and parties involved DO have to raise money.

    I’m not at all sure, either, that Justin Trudeau IN HIS ROLE AS A CRITIC, is also acting as an MP. My understanding is that as an MP, one represents one’s riding. As a critic, one is a member of a “shadow cabinet”, potentially a future member of the Cabinet, and thus, technically, a member of the “executive branch”…and NOT acting as an MP, but as a member of the executive.

    I may be splitting hairs; the situation is more transparent when the “executive” is completely separate from the “legislative branch”, as in the US, but I DO think the MP hat is not the same as the Cabinet Minister hat, even if both are worn at the same time.

    I’m not even that excited if JT (or any MP or Cabinet Minister) misses votes. The outcome of votes in the HoC is pretty well determined prior to the issue coming up on the order paper; rarely is it critical for any particular member to be there. That’s why it’s called “The Show”; the REAL work is done in committees and sub-committees.

  10. I listened to a few minutes of the debates and that’s all I could take. Teh format seemed to be two minutes of two candidates speaking over each other and then one candidate being allowed to be intelligible just long enough to have his/her mic cut in mid-sentence.

    I hope you guys weren’t expecting ordinary Canadians to watch that?

    As for Justin vs substance, I think tactically you’re best to go with Justin rather than substance.

    He can’t lose the anti-Harper vote no matter how fluffy he is, and I think he’ll beat Mulcair and recapture the opposition for you.

    Then who knows, maybe he’ll grow enough as opposition leader to be a credible candidate for prime minister another five years down the road.

    • Yeah, the “all sizzle, no steak” criticism is kind of a lame one. It reminds me of Clinton’s main criticism of Obama. It was disingenuous because ultimately, Obama agreed with Clinton on most issues (retrospectively their main disagreement was on mandates and a hawkish foreign policy, and he caved on both).

      If Trudeau was incoherent, the “no experience” charge might do some damage, but he’s not. Whether or not he has a brain, he can play somebody that does on TV. Plus, he’s been in parliament longer than MFH and as long as Garneau.

      He is more vulnerable to wedge politics, however. A Liberal renaissance in Quebec requires soft nationalist voters currently leaning NDP. Courting those voters, while simultaneously winning back Ontario is always a tall order. That’s where the Tories and NDP can play divide and conquer.

      • The Liberal Party will NEVER get votes from Quebeckers by trying to appear to the Quebec nationalist vote – especially not under a man named Trudeau. It is folly even to try.

        The party cannot win soft nationalists; it can only convert them. Instead of playing from the same songbook as the NDP, Liberals should come out strongly and unrepentantly in favour of the Clarity Act, the Constitution, and federalism. Don’t listen to the idiots in the NDP who say that Quebeckers are against all that – they’ve already been proven wrong:

        • You don’t have to oppose the clarity act to court that segment of the Quebec electorate.

          Clearly some soft nationalists voted for Pierre Trudeau in the past. It’s simple mathematics. Pierre Trudeau routinely won ~60-70% of the vote in Quebec. He won their vote because the alternatives were the kooky Socreds, and the quintessentially Anglo PC’s.

          Trudeau’s numbers in Quebec, however, suggest he is picking up some of those voters as well. Taking out the large number of “don’t know’s” Justin Trudeau’s approval among Bloc supporters was 42% (higher than his approval among Tories).

          No, soft nationalists wouldn’t be at the core of a Liberal resurgence in Quebec. But they matter at the margins, and would determine the extent of Trudeau’s rise there. And in Canada, leaders tend to care about marginal districts a lot more than they do about safe ones.

          • All well and good, as long as Trudeau is able to win soft nationalist over without embracing Quebec nationalism. I don’t want to see the Liberal party going down that road.

  11. I for one look forward to seeing the dissolution of Trudeau’s trust fund (and million-dollar car) as a gift to some worthy (if not tax-receiptable) causes, as he has promised to give all that he was given to his country.

    Or is this just another promise to which Liberals won’t hold him to account?

  12. To those who see the Trudeau speaking fee issue as a non-issue:

    What Trudeau did is not illegal and it is not unethical (by the Ethics Commissioner’s standards).

    However, Trudeau apparently personally profited by giving speeches to public elementary and secondary school boards and non-profits. Now if Conrad Black or did it, it would be one thing (and, ironically, likely slammed by many here). But we’re talking about someone who aspires to lead the country and thus almost by definition should be held to a much higher standard.

    IMO, an altruistic person would have only charged these groups for travel and hotel expenses (where applicable). And the fact that Trudeau’s inheritance makes him extremely comfortable by middle class standards only adds to this.

    So, illegal or unethical? No. But charging presumably cash strapped public school boards $10K or $20K? Unseemly. Or at least that’s what the CPC and NDP attack ads will say. And those ads will resonate at least to some extent with a public which already thinks too many politicians are a little too self-interested.

    For another take, see

    • Good grief! Trudeau built himself a dandy little public speaking career, and then got into politics. People kept on offering him speaking gigs, and while he slowed down a lot after getting himself elected, he still took up some lucrative offers. I think that sums it up doesn’t it? Who do you think are the people who normally hire speakers for major gatherings? It is ‘worthy causes’ who raise money at big events. This will go absolutely nowhere, because it is picayune, and Trudeau did nothing wrong. Actually, what is most revealing about it, is that Trudeau has been an extremely popular speaker, and a cash magnet for longer than he has been a politician. It seems that the ‘market’ values his talents more highly than a lot of Liberals do.

      • Trudeau should have known that once elected his paid speaking career was largely over – just like the vast majority of elected officials that do not keep working their day jobs – and if he was going to keep doing paid speaking gigs, he should have had the good judgment not to to take money from publicly-funded agencies.

        It’s picayune in the world of political attack ads, but that doesn’t make it right. The bar of good judgment goes beyond whether it is something the opposition can clobber you with.

        Switch the name Justin Trudeau for Jason Kenney and the heads of most of posters on the blog would have exploded long-ago.

  13. “Switch the name Justin Trudeau for Jason Kenney and the heads of most of posters on the blog would have exploded long-ago.”

    Yeah, because nobody would believe that ANYONE would pay Jason Kenney ANYTHING to hear him speak!

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