Canada’s top five political leaders were to face off in an election debate yesterday, but their stiffest competition may come from the US vice presidential candidates.
Canadians are criticizing the decision by Canada’s TV networks to schedule the country’s sole English-language debate at 9pm, when Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin goes head-to-head with Democrat Senator Joe Biden in a highly anticipated confrontation.
“I’ll be watching Palin and catching the highlights of the Canadian debate on the news,” said Steve Weiner, a dentist.
Denis McGrath, a screenwriter, called the decision by the Canadian networks unfortunate and “boneheaded.”
“I’m definitely going to watch the Palin debate. There’s a lot of Canadians that are going to watch,” said McGrath, whose primary interest is seeing how Palin, a newcomer to the national election scene, fares.
Canadians have traditionally shown keen interest in US presidential elections but this year’s race — with its historic dimensions of race and gender — has been even more closely watched.
“What’s happening there in the States is pretty riveting, ours is not so riveting,” said Canadian Broadcasting Corp anchor Peter Mansbridge, who ascribed the interest to the popularity of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, the first black man to be a finalist for the job, and Palin, who could be the first woman vice president in the US.
The Canadian candidates held their first debate on Wednesday in Ottawa — in French.
The debate kicked off with a focus on the repercussions of the US financial crisis, with opponents pouncing on the prime minister’s assurances that all is well.
“We have a budget surplus. We have an economy that continues to create jobs. We’re not experiencing a crisis in our financial system,” Harper said at the onset.
“The big challenge, as far as I’m concerned, is to stay on the right track to ensure that we continue to lower our taxes, to target our spending, base them on the real needs of real Canadians and to keep in surplus mode,” he said.
His rivals immediately blasted the Conservatives’ economic record and accused Harper of glazing over a softening economy.
Harper said on Wednesday that he supports Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts at reconciliation with the Taliban.
“The Afghan government has made local efforts and attempts from time to time in the past to reconcile with the Taliban,” Harper said. “President Karzai is looking to develop political reconciliation and debate in a democratic system, rather than debating with weapons ... And that’s an important, critical part of his program. And I support it.”
Meanwhile, a new poll released on Wednesday showed Democrat Senator Barack Obama pulling ahead of Republican opponent Senator John McCain in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, as their vice presidential running mates were sequestered in preparations for the much-anticipated debate.
In a separate poll by The Associated Press and GfK, Obama surged to a seven-point lead, 48 percent to 41 percent, nationally — a dramatic shift from an AP-GfK survey that gave McCain a slight edge nearly three weeks ago.