On November 22nd and 23rd I listened to/attended two debates of the four candidates currently running to be President of the Liberal Party of Canada. The first was a phone debate run by the excellent facebook group Liberals Rebuilding the Liberal Party (moderated by Gerard Kennedy) the second was held by the Ajax-Pickering Liberals riding association. The first was attended by all four candidates and the second was between three (Alexandra Mendès could not attend.) Here is a brief summary/report card on each candidate for the two debates.
Telephone Debate Hosted by Liberals Rebuilding the Liberal Party:
Mike Crawley: A-
Summary: Mikey Crawley worked hard to really own the position of “dynamic change” candidate. He worked well in the telephone debate as he is really strong at getting his message across in the limited time avaliable. His slogan “A Bold New Red” permiated everything he said. His call to “throw the doors to the Liberal Party wide open” and to “embrace big ideas” were backed up by his experience in the LPC(O). At one point he stressed that we need to drop overused political jargon like the word “centrism” and that we shouldn’t emulate the Conservative Party of today to rebuild.
Strongest Moment: His answer to questions on Youth Engagement and regarding the PTAs were interesting and didn’t get too wonky.
Weakest Moment: His answer on the idea of open primaries for the Liberal Leadership came off as a little muddled.
Sheila Copps: B+
Summary: Mrs. Copps did a great job in this debate at recasting herself as the candidate of energy and experience. Was quick to cite past experience but didn’t dwell. Ended her opening statement saying we need to be “reborn, heal and bring in new members” which set the tone for her during the debate. She was able to clearly articulate why she supports an open primary system for the liberal leadership which was a strong accompaniment to her points on the need of the Liberal Party to embrace new technologies.
Strongest Moment: Her passion came through during the debate. Was able to give tangible specifics on a variety of topics. Advocates the creation of an LGBTQ caucus, I think this is a great idea.
Weakest Moment: Her opening statement was really heavy on the Harper-bashing. I assume the 350+ Liberals on the phone were on the same page on the PM. Didn’t address some of the concerns Liberals have about the so-called “baggage” from her past experience in the Liberal Party.
Alexandra Mendès: B
Summary: Mrs. Mendes is sort of the Chris Dodd of this race. She has excellent experience with an NGO and was a Liberal MP, but she often gets overlooked. Though she spent a solid block of the debate saying she was either “reluctant” or “not likely” to implement certain ideas, she was as positive and substantive as the other candidates. She is fully bilingual and I didn’t sense any language barrier during the debate. During the Youth discussion she talked with passion about the energy of the Occupy movement which was one of the high points of the debate.
Strongest Moment: Was the only candidate to defend the system of the Liberal Leader appointing candidates. Made the argument that we need to achieve general and cultural equality first before phasing it out.
Weakest Moment: Wasn’t as energetic enough and lets Copps/Crawley dominate the debate. She seemed absent from the discussion on open primaries.
Ron Hartling: B-
Summary: Ron Hartling cut his teeth as a riding association president and it shows. He is incredibly wonky and has been traveling the country talking to different Liberal riding associations to help rebuild the party. This tends to be Mr. Hartling’s answer when it comes to party rebuilding and he makes a good case. He is trying to be the candidate who wont make waves but will get the difficult work that the Liberal Party that needs to do, done.
Strongest Moment: When talking about youth engagement he proposed having older members mentor young members, this was one a number of good ideas that he proposed. He came off as extremely knowledgable.
Weakest Moment: The format was not good to Mr. Hartling. He tends to get a little bogged down in details and wasn’t concise enough to get his point across in some cases.
Ajax-Pickering Riding Association Debate:
Mike Crawley: A+
Summary: Engaging and substantive. He made the case for overhauling the Liberal Party but keeping the Liberal soul. Advocated open primaries for candidate nominations but OMOV for leadership selection.
Strongest moment: “We need to turn the Liberal Party into Canada’s first truly modern political party.” He deftly combined the change narrative with the experience/hard work narratives that his opponents are putting forward. His answer on youth engagement (the question that I asked) was the strongest.
Weakest moment: His answer to a question a question about proportional representation wasn’t direct enough and didn’t make good use of the time alloted.
Sheila Copps: A
Summary: A stronger opening in this debate. When Mrs. Copps did talk about her past experience she was passionate, clear and really made me proud to be a Liberal. She was extremely successful in proposing and defending a primary-style system for selecting the Liberal leader and clarified her position on Bob Rae running for permanent leader. This should really dispelled any false rumours that she is running so he can run for permanent leader (she said that is he wants to run for the full time position he will have to resign as interim leader.) Her slogan is “Strength. Determination. Grit.” I like that a whole bunch
Strongest moment: She advocated simple/direct solutions to some of the party’s problems (early candidate nominations in the 1/3 of ridings where we received >10% of the vote, simplifying the constitution) and showed her organizational knowledge.
Weakest moment: Still a little too Harper focused for my liking. She didn’t succeed in owning the change narrative.
Ron Hartling: B-
Summary: Mr. Hartling was able to let his answers breathe in this debate. Even though he was cut off in his opening statement his answers had heft to them and he showed that he is as strong a candidate as his opponents. He made frequent reference to his success in Kingston and the Islands. Though his answers were solid, he didn’t have the energy of Crawley or the passion of Copps so he did come off as professorial.
Strongest moment: He put his money where his mouth is and talked about meeting with 75 Western Canadian riding associations. Whenever talking about the party at the riding association level he shines.
Weakest moment: In response to a question on cooperation with the NDP/Greens he attempted to threat the needle by saying that it would be alright for the Liberals to not run a candidate in a weak riding after consultation with that ridings’ Liberal RA. He got stomped by Copps and Crawley on this one. His argument was solid but didn’t match up well with his philosophy of rebuilding riding by riding.
You can read/re-read all my past debate tweets and any future Liberal Presidential race tweets using the #LibPrez hashtag.