Five things Torontonians should look for in the federal election debates

This week, Canadians get to watch two debates among the leaders of the four official parties in the House of Commons—the English one is tomorrow night, and the French one the night after (apparently there’s a sporting event of some kind on, so the French debate was moved up a day). As with the last several English-language debates, Steve Paikin will be moderating the showdown, but unlike in 2008 this will be an entirely Green-free event. What can we look forward to when four white men get onstage and redefine “diversity” to mean “Jack Layton’s moustache”? Some ideas, tailored for Torontonians:

1. The G20 is back, baby Thanks to an eerily well-timed blockbuster CP story filed this morning, we expect to hear about the “fake lake” again—not to mention “possible criminal wrongdoing” by at least one of the three candidates not named Stephen Harper. From there, it’s a short oratorical leap to the G20 weekend and the ensuing unpleasantness. Bonus points for the party leader who quotes Ontario’s ombudsman and calls it the largest violation of civil rights in Canadian history.

2. No surprises Unless one of the leaders draws up a radical new idea on their way to the podium—don’t laugh, it’s been done—the leaders will mainly stick to their bestselling hits, which means the opposition will talk contempt and Harper will talk coalition. If we’re truly lucky, somebody will actually discuss policy proposals, but on that front it’s difficult for Toronto to get excited: despite all the talk of “battleground GTA” there’s been precious little wooing in the form of election goodies. The headline item from the Conservative platform’s “cities and communities” section: tax credits for volunteer firefighters and defibrillators for hockey arenas. We are uninspired.

3. We will continue to pretend that cities are unimportant So far this election has been about health care and energy supplements for seniors, education, and Facebook. It’s all been amusing to various degrees, but nowhere are we seeing a recognition (in policy or politics) of the fact that 80 per cent of Canadians lives in cities, and cities are hurting badly. Saying it’s a provincial responsibility only goes so far—so are hospitals and schools, and that hasn’t stopped these leaders from discussing them.

4. It’s unlikely to be as exciting as Toronto’s mayor debates last year Whatever else happens, no one is likely to say that Canada shouldn’t take in any more immigrants and spark a 48-hour freakout. Especially not Harper, if for no other reason than that the Conservatives are desperate for votes from immigrants.

5. Michael Ignatieff will impress, but not enough All right, prediction time. Ignatieff has a long history of speaking comfortably on camera, and he is sharp and has been campaigning ably. He is also the only face on the podium viewers won’t have already seen in every election debate since 2004. Ignatieff-of-reality is certainly going to perform better than Ignatieff-of-voters’-expectations (how could he not?). But whether it’s enough to get voters to forget those Conservative attack ads—or that he’s an MP from Toronto—is a question answerable only on May 2.


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