Candidates fail to impress in first federal Liberal leadership debate

Andy Radia
Canada PoliticsJanuary 21, 2013

If you chose to watch the federal Liberal leadership debate on Sunday afternoon instead of the National Football League playoffs, you made a mistake.

Unlike the NFC final, the Liberal debate was a ho-hum affair; it had too many candidates and not enough new ideas.

In many ways, it was an opportunity lost for a party desperately seeking to rebuild its brand. For one of the few times since 2011, the Liberals were the centre of the 'Canadian-poli' world. In fact, at one point during the afternoon, #LPCdb8 was the number one trending Twitter hashtag in all of Canada.

But they blew it.

Justin Trudeau — the race's front-runner — gave a lacklustre performance and showed little passion. Moreover, he did little to shed his sizzle-over-steak persona speaking — for the most part — in generalities.

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The other 'name candidates' — Marc Garneau, Martha Hall Findlay, and Martin Cauchon — performed admirably at times but didn't take any jabs at Trudeau and certainly didn't deliver any knockout punches.

The lesser-known contenders such as George Takach, David Bertchi and Karen McCrimmon spoke well but didn't offer anything new or innovative to propel them.

The only candidate to have distinguished herself from the group was Joyce Murray, who was the odd one out in the debate about her idea to co-operate with the NDP in the next election.

She even took a veiled shot at Trudeau at one point saying "if you want to replace Stephen Harper, where’s your plan?"

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In his post-debate column for Postmedia News, Michael Den Tandt argues that the front-runners were hamstrung because there were too many candidates.

"This large and mainly weak field is more than an aggravation, for the three front-runners and for the party," he wrote.

"At a time when they should be testing one other, showcasing their wares before a Canadian public increasingly seeking out fresh faces and new voices, all three are lost in the general noise."

The next debate is scheduled for Feb. 2 in Winnipeg.

But, this time, will anyone be watching?

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