About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Let's Get Ready to Rebuttal!

As I'm sure you know, Tuesday was debate night in the Royal City. The combined forces of the Guelph Mercury and Rogers Television was what it took to bring together 9 out of 10 of the candidates running in Guelph, which begs the question: is Manuel Couto real? I mean is he a real person, or does he merely exist on our ballot every Federal election?

But the nine that did show created a lively evening of debate which was often more like an 8 on 1 with everyone else taking shots at the Conservatives and Stephen Harper, leaving Gloria Kovach to defend not just her own designs on the MP job, but the record of the Conservative government as well. Here's how the debate broke down:

John Turmel - At the University debate, J.T. closed with the 9/11 conspiracy theory version of our involvement in Afghanistan and that's how he started this one, before pretty much stuck to his guns about LETS and getting interest free credit from the Bank of Canada for the rest of the night. On taxes, he says that he doesn't mind paying them so long as they're going to something and not paying down the debt. Among his highlights Turmel proclaimed that he should decriminalize "all victimless crime" including gambling, smoking pot and prostitution saying that "Even shy and unattractive people have the right to get laid." Also, Turmel dropped some science on the crowd saying that pot should be legalized because it can kill cancer and regrow brain cells, and that humans aren't responsible for global warming because there's global warming on Mars too.

Drew Garvie - The Communist Party nominee came off cool, informed and collected, and handled a question about the human rights practices of "Communist China" with a lot of grace. Garvie hit hard at the Conservatives for cutting social programs and their support of the Afghan mission. He referenced Harper's infamous 1997 speech to Americans in Montreal several times as a reason why a Harper majority government will be dangerous to the country. "We need to think about what a functioning economy really is," he said adding that the Harper government has a very narrow focus in these terms: profit. I must add that Garvie had tremendous control of his party's platform in this debate; he was practiced, polished and professional. He really came out to play on this one, and looked good enough to play ball with the majors.

Karen Levenson - Although I don't think she's really impressed in her past debate appearances, Levenson seriously came out swinging in this one asking, "Who are the real extremists: those that are trying to save the world or those trying to destroy it?" She swung hard at every pitch and while she didn't always connect, she worked to gain ground. During a question about the economy, Levenson answered that there are limits to economic growth because the Earth is finite. During a question about support for safe injection sites, Levenson said that the roots of drug use are from the fact that many people in society don't see themselves as being counted. And when Gloria Kovach said that as a nurse and a mother, she supported universal healthcare, Levenson said that it was unconscionable for a nurse and a mother to support the heavily polluting tar sands. Levenson was solid from start to finish.

Philip Bender - The even-tempered Bender did what he does best, and put a harmless, congeal spin on the Libertarian point of view for the issues in this election. He tested the assertion that government can create jobs, challenged that protecting the environment comes from a lack of property rights, and reiterated his belief that our healthcare system is a monopoly that insulates us from proper improvements and innovation. In a question that mentioned Martin Luther King Jr., Bender used him as an example of Libertarian ideals since he incited great change without being part of a government and getting people to join him in "volunteer association." Bender did take a serious hit though when he joined Turmel in his assumption that the jury was still out, so to speak, about whether human activity was to blame for global warming.

Mike Nagy - The Green Party candidate came out in the lead and close enough stayed there through most of the debate, jocking for position with one other candidate. His opening remarks set the tone, "Canadians have always feared change, but have always embraced improvement." And then referencing the pro-environment turn of the other parties added, "There is only one Green Party." Nagy ably proved his dual points that his party has a complete platform and that economic and environmental concerns are irrevocably tied. He dodged Conservative charges that we need to stay the course in these difficult economic times by employing a Titantic metaphor and attacked Turmel and Bender when the implied that there's no human factor in global warming. The normally soft-spoken Nagy was on fire all night; he was scrappy, determined and extremely effective in making his points.

Gloria Kovach - As I said earlier, Kovach had in unenviable position to defend a government she hasn't been a part of but did so admirably. She hit out strong about the Liberals', and other parties', plan to "tax people to death," but it seemed to connect with the audience about as well as Bender's call to dismantle the Federal government as we know it. I think what did connect was her correlation of the recent the job loss at Woods over transportation costs and the idea of the Green Shift; it might make a few undecideds take pause. What continues to work in Kovach's favour is her standing in the community as a city councillor; people know her, people like her, so they can look past a lot of the boogeyman stuff about the Conservatives. She held her own, but to borrow a colloquialism from the American journalists, this wasn't a game changer for her.

Kornelis Klevering - If there was a game changer for anyone it was Marijuana Party candidate Brother Kase who made a strong argument for his election by turning his perceived candidacy around. "If you think I'm up here to advocate the case for smoking pot, you've got the wrong idea," he said. He attacked the half-hearted stand of decriminalization and talked about making Guelph a centre for hemp-based research and using the old Guelph correctional facility as a medicinal marijuana cultivation centre, since it was the appropriate security infrastructure in place. Brother Kase was very strong on all the issues brought up, from healthcare to Afghanistan, but at the same time, never lost sight of his own platform. I was impressed.

Tom King - Unfortunately, I think King was looking a little tired Tuesday, possibly the rigors of the long campaign. But his perfected, professorial tone came through loud and clear at times, especially when talking about soical justice issues. He went against the curve on the environmental question by suggesting that you can't divorce local from national concerns. He lashed out at the Conservatives and Liberals for allowing P3 healthcare to creep into the country and then hit the Liberals again for not standing up to the Conservatives in the last parliamentary session. On the question about China and human rights, he was strongest though saying, "Human rights should never be the price to be paid for trade," and then took a swipe at Kovach's mention of native issues saying that the Conservatives "couldn't find a reserve if I gave them a map." He wrapped by encouraging the crowd to "vote for what you want. Vote for what you believe."

Frank Valeriote - The Liberal candidate was also a standout in the debate not so much for anything he said, but the way he said it. Baited once by one of his colleagues, Valeriote politely refused rebuttal, showing strength and confidence in his message. He kept a local focus, tying Harper policies to their impact on Guelph. In his opening remarks he said that neither Canada or Guelph is better off now than it was two and a half years ago, and then he slammed Kovach by namedropping Brent Barr. Later he spoke strongly in favour of safe injection sites and the benefits of them and slighted the Conservatives saying that ideology prevents them from giving the idea their support. For the most part though he stuck to his guns and the Liberal playbook. He ignored the attacks on him and threwout a few of his own.

In the end, I don't think the debate probably had a radical impact on the numbers, but it certainly highlighted the possibility that the race truly is between Valeriote and Nagy.

Before I sign off, I noticed on the Guelph Mercury blog that David Graham, a noted Valeriote supported, was accused of asking the question about living in a riding to run there,of being politically motivated. Graham talked about it on his own blog, but I couldn't find the comment on the Merc blog again. Anyway, yeah - that was political. (Sorry Dave, you know you're my homeboy.) But no more political than when U of G Young Conservatives member Michael Sona asked the question about strategic voting, which was clearly a measure to get King and Nagy to attack Valeriote, who's previously made comments of looking to get co-operation between the left and centre-left parties to beat Harper.

Politics at a debate?! Who would have though?

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