Almost four million viewers tuned into the English leadership debate Tuesday night, myself included. My mission was more than personal interest. I needed to take copious notes on the demeanor and dress of the four leaders.
Although typically media will call me for commentary following the debates, this time I’d been given a heads up, by the producers at CBC Radio’s The Current, and was scheduled for an early morning discussion with two other women keeping close tabs on the evening: Kady O’Malley, political correspondent with the CBC and Globe and Mail columnist, Tabatha Southey.
My mandate, clearly, was not to comment on content but to interpret the body language of four seasoned politicians, all determined to make their points under crossfire — and the hot lights of a TV studio.
Not an easy venue, even for these parliamentary pros, but I was surprised in the earliest stages to hear Prime Minister Harper’s voice quiver — a sure sign of nerves. And his arms remained close to his chest suggesting cautiousness. Throughout the opening hour he appeared frustrated, almost ill at ease, but he controlled his emotions by holding on to the podium.
By comparison, Jack Layton seemed to be enjoying himself. His gestures reinforced his content. He appeared sincere and when he directed a question to PM Harper about G8 spending, he stepped back from the podium and put a hand in his pocket. Clever.
Michael Ignatieff carried an air of defiance about him. With his hands constantly on his hips he appeared confrontational. I’d say more professorial than presidential — too heavy-handed when it came to gesturing.
Gilles Duceppe was just plain pushy! All that finger pointing was supposed to create a sense of control, or dominance, but it had just the opposite effect. He appeared to be losing control. And he was whiny, like a small child about to have a temper tantrum.
On the other hand, Mr. Duceppe was definitely the best dressed. Jack Layton scored points for his high contrast tie and shirt and missed the mark by only centimeters —the tie was too wide.
PM Harper is definitely a busy guy but should have made time for getting his suit altered and selecting another tie. The suit jacket was far too snug and the striped tie took on a life of its own under hot lights. I’m not the first to comment on his glasses and poor choice of frames; he seemed to be squinting the entire time.
Michael Ignatieff always seems so somber, like a grey day. Sadly, scruffy is the only word to describe his hair. But that said I’d be hard pressed to pick the worst haircut of the evening. Amazing, three have hair coverage most men would envy and between them they can’t find a decent barber.
Finally, the French debate was an entirely different experience. Animated, lively and emotional, the time flew by. Imagine, what if we had a debate in every province?
Note: You can listen to the full discussion I had with Kady O’Malley and Tabatha Southey on CBC’s The Current by listening to the podcast here
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