Winning is easy. Governing's hard.
Is it too much to hope for a better government?
You’ll be delighted to know that Pierre Poilievre showed up for a debate this weekend. He debated his smartphone. And he won!
Here’s the next prime minister of Canada, for all I know, standing in a parking lot haranguing a webcam for a little less than three minutes. The phone had no rebuttal to the Conservative leadership candidate’s argument — that Bank of Canada employees shouldn’t get bonuses when inflation is way over target, and that gatekeepers are panicking because Poilievre is “bringing the real world to government.”
And it’s true. In the real world, shouting at a phone solves any problem a government is likely to face. This is well known. It’s way better than sharing a room with anyone who might disagree.
Poilievre won’t debate any of the other Conservative leadership candidates any more. His statement on the matter makes points about the campaign’s only previous official English-language debate, in May in Edmonton, that resemble points I made at the time. It was a terrible debate, full of what Poilievre calls “pointless questions” and “stupid rules.”
But it’s a funny thing. While that debate was happening, Poilievre was having a blast. He was quick with answers to questions about what he was reading, what he was binge-watching, what music he liked. He had witty answers. He delivered them with a smile. Nor was there any trace of criticism of the debate, immediately after it happened, on his campaign manager’s Twitter account.
I have questions about someone who needs to think until July before deciding something that happened in May was unacceptable.
A candidate who was reasonably quick on his feet could have said — right there on the spot — something like: “Hey, Tom, this debate is a farce. Start asking us about serious things or I’m out of here.” Indeed, any of the candidates could have. I was surprised at the time, while it was happening, that none did. If any had, they would have done a favour both to their own prospects and to the quality of our public discourse.
After the debate, after the scale of the mess had sunk in, any of the candidates could have said: “Bad choices in Edmonton cheated Conservative members out of a good conversation. Let’s have that conversation. Let’s give them another English-language debate with simple, common-sense rules.”
This would not have produced a crazy, reckless number of debates. UK Conservative leadership candidates have debated four times in a month. Donald Trump showed up to 16 debates and forums during the Republican primary season in 2015-16. All of them featured opponents more formidable (though, in the end, not much more) than Trump’s smartphone camera.
By now several of my readers will be vexed with me, as they have often lately been, because they thought they could count on me to help Pierre Poilievre beat Justin Trudeau. Let me break it to you: That’s not my damned job. Nor, indeed, is it my job to defend Trudeau against whichever Conservative the party sends his way. My job, rather, is to stand with those Canadians who hope any major event in our politics — an election, a leadership race, an otherwise appalling crisis — might offer us all a chance to trade up.
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