Leaders' debates are usually framed with boxing metaphors, from knockouts to no decisions. But Wednesday night's French debate was more like a hockey game, with five players on the ice, four of them shooting on the goalie, Stephen Harper. He stopped most of their shots, but they all scored a point or two against him.
As predicted, Stephane Dion won just by showing up and exceeding expectations. Gilles Duceppe, true to his experienced debating form, had several good shifts on the ice and tangled with Harper in his crease. Jack Layton looked good on the ice, but he was playing out of position, insisting voters think of him as a prime minister. Elizabeth May won just by being at the game and by being better than expected in French.
Harper? He was just goaling, and he looked cool to the point of being disengaged, rather like Carey Price of the Habs on a bit of an off night. The Conservatives wanted Harper to project a calm demeanour, a prime ministerial air. "He was perfectly Zen," wrote Lysiane Gagnon in her widely read La Presse column yesterday, adding that Harper was "calm, reassuring, pleasant, above the fray. In short, he looked like a prime minister."