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6:50 p.m. Getting close. Throw some salami on bread, get notepad out, and remind myself to watch not as a blind partisan but open-minded, with detachment. Like any undecided citizen. What would a regular Canadian see?

7 p.m. The big moment. Moderator introduces the three leaders and three guys in blue suits appear at their podiums. Where oh where is Elizabeth May?

7:15 p.m. These guys know a lot but still too early to figure out whether it’s just isolated memorized factoids or if they have a sense of the bigger picture.

7:30 p.m. Already clear this is an impressive performance by all three, and if it doesn’t sound too sucky, a welcome reflection on the state of Canadian politics. They are all mostly civil, knowledgeable and, of course, all are bilingual. Justin Trudeau is remarkably relaxed and feisty; debates are his thing, lucky guy. Thomas Mulcair is being low key, calm, maybe trying to look statesmanlike, throws off his erudition with ease. Stephen Harper wears a tight little smile that stays on his face throughout the night. But of course he backs off for no one, and doesn’t mind throwing around impressive references to all his meetings with Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair go after each other for long periods, giving common enemy Harper a pass. Seems poor strategy to me, especially by Mr. Mulcair. Mr. Harper should be is target, not Mr. Trudeau.

7:45 p.m. Mr. Trudeau going strong, feisty, almost belligerent, while Mr. Mulcair seems a little deflated. Me too.

8 p.m. One hour gone. Don’t know about the leaders, but I’m palpably sagging. Would be good to switch to Netflix but I’ll hang in. But as I tire, I find myself liking all of them less and having less patience for the spin and the platitudes.

8:15 p.m. They and I are fading. Mr. Harper tries to jump-start the thing by throwing in his love affair with Israel. No time for others to pursue — probably just as well for many of us. Leaders are far more supportive of Israeli government than many Canadians. Why is this?

8:20 p.m. Waiting desperately for one of them to crack a joke of any kind. And waiting. These are not funny guys, though Mr. Harper still has that tight grin pasted on.

8:30 p.m. All has gone pretty predictably when Mr. Harper actually boasts about his environmental record. Is this his idea of a joke or the world’s all-time greatest demonstration of the real meaning of chutzpah?

8:32 p.m. Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau go after each other on climate change. Suddenly, the penny drops for me. What a political tragedy it is for Canada that these two are mortal enemies instead of partners. What a team they’d make, if they could only agree who’d be numero uno. And look at the consequence of their failure to do so. Polls show the unbelievable — Conservatives are actually first — first! And so far I’d say this debate isn’t hurting Mr. Harper in the least, certainly not with his base, which has grown in the past week or so.

8:35 p.m. I become aware that both Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau keep using that most foolish of politicians’ tics, “quite frankly.” For decades, I’ve wondered what they mean when they use it. Are they not being frank the rest of the time? Are they more frank and less frank? Very confusing.

8:36 p.m. I’m fried but Mr. Mulcair seems to get a second wind. He needs it. He’s not been setting the heather ablaze tonight — again. What bad luck for him and the party. It’s the exact opposite of Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Mulcair’s eloquence and gravitas in the House and at rallies doesn’t translate to good debating techniques, especially for the TV audience. Each of his debates have proved disappointing, when they were supposed to seal his deal with the electorate. I fear the deal is almost becoming null and void.

8:42 p.m. Mr. Trudeau makes long intervention on trade with Asia. Lots of facts, but to me he sounds way out of his depth. But I don’t sense this is hurting his overall performance. Mr. Mulcair throws a couple of gratuitous barbs at Mr. Trudeau but they don’t work. They seem mean rather than clever.

8:50 p.m. Mr. Mulcair make a straightforward pitch for an NDP government. Evokes no audible audience reaction. Must disappoint him — and party supporters.

9 p.m. Over at last. Audience in hall gives enthusiastic applause to the entire enterprise, and so do I. I still greatly fear what the PM has done to Canada and what he would continue to do if he has the opportunity. But this was a shining night for Canadian political life. It’s impossible to envisage anything comparable in the United States.

But if I remove my mask of detachment, I must report that it was not at all the night the NDP needed to recover its faded lead. But there’s still three weeks left — a lifetime in politics. We have the most polarizing and, yes, dangerous, government in Canadian history and we have the NDP positioned to take advantage of it. Yet the NDP focuses its attacks far more on Mr. Trudeau and gives the government almost a free pass. A huge mistake, in my view. And not too late to change, by any means. It ain’t over till it’s over, in baseball or politics.


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Gerry Caplan

Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He is an author, teacher, media commentator,...