09/30/2015 05:34 EDT | Updated 09/30/2016 05:12 EDT

How Do the Leaders Rate Post-Munk Debate?


The debate went into overtime on Monday night and no one minded. That's a first in Canadian history.

On the topic of firsts, can you imagine any other NDP leader saying the following words:

"... We understand that there will be times when we have to, either under the NATO Charter or under our international obligations with the UN, to use force, and we won't shy away from that... Mr. Harper always takes the same approach. And you know, when your only tool is a hammer, all problems resemble nails, but this is a complex situation. It's one that has deep roots and many years of divisive conflict in the region, and there is one area where Canada is completely failing, and that is in dealing with the refugee crisis."

No, not even Jack Layton -- who reversed the decades-long party position of withdrawing from NATO and NORAD -- could have gone this far. Thomas Mulcair is readying himself to be prime minister of Canada and is ensuring our international allies are aware he's ready to step up to the plate.

Each of the leaders would present a different face of Canada to the world. Mulcair clearly demonstrated a new NDP approach to the realm of foreign affairs for Canada, one focused on reasonable international intervention, when required, instead of default anti-interventionism.

Was Mulcair's performance last night enough to bring a few more points back to the NDP?

Trudeau worked hard to dig into his opponents, but didn't present himself as a possible world leader. However, that's not really what voters are looking for out of a debate. They want restrained passion. His spirited defence of his father will make for a strong pitch to partisans and people who adored him. This may turn off other voters.

Stephen Harper managed to stay out of any major trouble and reinforced his image as a "tough on terror" PM. He accomplished his debate goals and oddly wasn't the focus of the majority of attacks.

As the campaigns look at the coverage from last night's debate and try to calibrate the last 20 days of the campaign, here is what should be on their minds:

In the Toronto Star, Tim Harper contends that Trudeau has turned a perceived weakness -- foreign affairs -- into a strength, but more importantly he rightly points out "there was likely nothing said Monday that would cause Harper's bedrock base to wobble."

The National Post's Jen Gerson suggests last night was the moment the left began to eat itself. That's a bit of headline hyperbole, but all campaigns would be wise to read the next passage a few times over: "The fact that no one has scored anything but technical points against the Prime Minister over the course of four debates should probably be the left's most worrisome omen yet." Worrisome, indeed.

Wrapping up all that political posturing may be the emergence of a critical issue: free trade, and specifically the much maligned Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail suggests, "In the three weeks that remain before the election, Mr. Harper will seek to define the choice: a Pacific, globalized, outward-looking Canada under the Conservatives versus a closed, protectionist and declining Canada under the Liberals or the NDP."

Ian Capstick is a former NDP strategist.


Best Quotes From Canada Election Munk Debate On Foreign Policy