“There are more children living in poverty now than there were when you took office.” That’s what Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said to Paul Martin in the French language leaders debate on Monday. He went on to criticize Martin for paying off the federal government’s debt on the backs of Canada’s unemployed workers.

He also took Martin to task for tax breaks to the oil industry and for generous foreign tax shelters to companies like Martin’s former company, Canada Steamship Lines.

As a socialist and a New Democrat, I would have preferred to have seen Jack Layton scoring points like these. As a Quebecer, I’m glad Gilles Duceppe was there to fill the void.

This is not a criticism of Layton. His heart was clearly in the right place. The NDP leader talked in general terms about 10 years of broken Liberal promises from health care to day care and tax reductions for the well-off but he wasn’t able to challenge Martin on specifics like Gilles Duceppe was.

When Layton squared off against Duceppe on tackling the health care problem, he found himself scrambling to explain why the federal government should be treading on the provincial domain of health by amending the Canada Health Act to guard against privatization. Layton was able to cite examples of privatization in Ontario and B.C. but he failed to mention the measures taken by the much-despised Jean Charest government in Quebec that would have resonated with health care workers and patients in this province.

The good news is Martin unquestionably lost the debate in Quebec. He was trounced by arguments coming from the left. The bad news is, it was Gilles Duceppe who won, not Jack Layton.

Don’t hold your breath for a Quebec breakthrough for the NDP. Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc have carried the day in la belle province.

Of course, this is all water under the bridge now. There is nothing the NDP can do to change the outcome of the French language debates. But I hope the NDP communications team was taking notes. If Jack Layton can do in the English debates what Gilles Duceppe did in the French debates, there is still hope for the NDP outside Quebec.

Bonne chance, mon ami.