NDP candidates vie for attention in tightly timed debate
Published Sunday, December 4, 2011 9:25PM EST
In a debate that at times resembled a verbal Twitter feed, the nine candidates for the New Democratic Party leadership faced off on a flag-draped stage in Ottawa Sunday afternoon to discuss Canada's economy.
Because of the large number of candidates, each one was given 60 seconds for opening remarks and to answer each question in the two-hour session, making it difficult to deliver a distinct message without interruption by the moderators.
But even with the tight time restrictions in this first of six debates, the seven men and two women vying for the votes of 100,000 card-carrying NDP members made strong impressions on observers.
According to University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman, the big winners among the front-runners were Toronto MP Peggy Nash and Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair.
He told CTV News Channel that Nash's performance was "very strong" and Mulcair showed "he's on top of the files (and) knows the issues."
The big loser, Wiseman said, was former party president Brian Topp who has a brilliant mind but "hasn't honed his political skills."
As for the other candidates, he said Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm was the weakest and would probably drop out of the race if he hadn't already paid the $15,000 entry fee.
He said Manitoba MP Niki Ashton did well but has no chance of winning, even if she represents the future of the NDP.
Wiseman said he was most surprised by Ottawa MP Paul Dewar who "began in an interesting way but was underwhelming."
While the two-hour debate was split into English and French halves, the tight split-second timing gave it a choppy appearance on television. The English debate closed with an odd segment that provided 15 seconds for a candidate to ask another candidate a question, 30 seconds for the rival's reply and another 30 seconds for the questioner to make a comment.
In her 60-second opening statement, Nash attacked the Conservative government for its economic policies and promised things would change if she became prime minister.
"Bridging the gap between business and people has been my life's work," said the former labour leader.
Dewar, who was playing to a home crowd at the debate, invoked the name of the late NDP leader Jack Layton and called on people to rally around his campaign.
"We have a chance to make real change in this country," he said. "This is up to you. Our party starts at the grassroots."
Topp told the audience that while travelling the country he has heard people ask if the NDP can win the next election and whether it would be worth it.
"It won't be worth it if we maintain the status quo -- that's what Liberals are for," he said, calling on the NDP members to "fight for the Canada of our dreams."
The main clash of the afternoon came when Topp told Dewar his economic plan did not include removal of the Goods and Services Tax.
"Where do you stand on the GST?" Topp asked.
After Dewar deflected the question and launched into a discussion about the environment and climate change, Topp said Dewar would pay for such green energy policies with public debt.
"How will you get it done?" Topp said. But the moderator intervened and ended that segment.
The others who joined Dewar, Nash, Topp, Chisholm, Mulcair and Ashton on stage were Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, B.C. MP Nathan Cullen and Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh.
The vote to choose the next Opposition leader is set for March 24.
With files from The Canadian Press