Aaron Wherry’s formerly live blog of the Liberal leadership debate

One blog, nine candidates, two hours, 23 entries
CORRECTED VERSION - CORRECTS BYLINE - From left to right, Federal Liberal leadership candidates Justin Trudeau, Martin Cauchon, Karen McCrimmon, Joyce Murray, Martha Hall Findlay, George Takach, Deborah Coyne, David Bertschi and Marc Garneau pose for photographs after the party’s first leadership debate in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday January 20, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
From left to right, federal Liberal leadership candidates Justin Trudeau, Martin Cauchon, Karen McCrimmon, Joyce Murray, Martha Hall Findlay, George Takach, Deborah Coyne, David Bertschi and Marc Garne after the party's first leadership debate in Vancouver, B.C., on January 20, 2013. (Darryl Dyck, THE CANADIAN PRESS)


Welcome to live coverage of the first Liberal leadership debate. The debate begins at 4 p.m. EST and can be streamed at, and CPAC and CBC News Network are also carrying the proceedings on television.

We’ll commence the live blog shortly. Hit refresh for the latest updates.

3:49pm. The theme of this debate is “Can anyone here pierce the aura of invincibility that surrounds Justin Trudeau?” The first round will focus on hair care. Officially, there will be opening statement, then two questions for all nine candidates, then 12 mini-debates among groups of three candidates and then closing statements.

3:52pm. Despite the fact that there are nine candidates, the Liberal party has apparently declined to use a Hollywood Squares setup.

3:56pm. Here are your official themes for the afternoon: aboriginal issues, the environment, social housing, Pacific Rim Trade and electoral cooperation and reform.

4:05pm. Legalized weed obviously gets the first applause of the afternoon.

4:10pm. Marc Garneau goes with a Kim Campbell joke. (The one about how she said an election wasn’t the time to discuss policy serious issues.) Probably gets his point across: He’s about policy, not nice hair. But Kim Campbell said that 20 years ago. Most of the NDP caucus wasn’t even in grade school when she made that gaffe. It’s time to get a new punchline.

4:15pm. Justin Trudeau does his Trudeau thing: staring into the nation’s soul, enthusing about the possibility of greatness and so forth.

4:19pm. There are four people on stage who ran for the Liberals in 2011 and lost. If you ran for the Liberals in 2011 and lost, there’s a 1.5 per cent chance that you’re a leadership candidate now.

4:24pm. Opening statements give way to a discussion of aboriginal issues. Time for collaboration and discussion and cooperation and leadership, everyone seems to agree. Martha Hall Findlay is really mad that Thomas Mulcair suggested that some progress had been made with last week’s meeting between the Prime Minister and First Nations. “The gaul!” she says. For that matter, if the NDP hadn’t helped defeat the Liberal government in 2004, the Kelowna Accord would’ve been implemented. Liberals love talking about the Kelowna Accord. New Democrats and Conservatives would probably love to talk about why the Liberal government fell in 2004.

4:37pm. Nobody but Joyce Murray wants to work with the NDP. She is the Liberal party’s Nathan Cullen. Well-positioned for a strong third-place finish. Karen McCrimmon argues that the best countries in the world have more than two parties. Risky move to openly disparage the United States and China like that.

4:42pm. Marc Garneau notes his ranked ballot proposal. Martha Hall Findlay endorses the idea. How about a coalition? Are any of these candidates willing to say they’d entertain the possibility of forming a coalition—either as the junior or senior partner—after the 2015 election?

4:46pm. With everyone but Ms. Murray having dismissed electoral cooperation with the New Democrats, an audience member asks how the Liberals might cooperate with the New Democrats in 2015 (because Mackenzie King did it once, apparently). Deborah Coyne allows for the possibility of post-election cooperation.

4:51pm. Martha Hall Findlay raises the example of Liberals voting for Joe Clark in Calgary in 2000 as an example of… something. The Liberals need their Joe Clark? Liberals need to be willing to vote for other parties?

4:53pm. On the issue of energy development and sustainability, Marc Garneau notes that he was an astronaut. David Bertschi and George Takach make fun of him. Mr. Takach refers to himself as “the tech candidate.” Mr. Garneau says he is also a tech candidate. Mr. Takach suggests that Mr. Garneau cannot be both the astronat and the tech candidate. That’s about the extent of the disagreement so far.

5:00pm. Joyce Murray shouts out a “price on carbon.”

5:06pm. A mini-debate on scrapping first-past-the-post. Karen McCrimmon wants to circulate petitions to determine what people want. I suspect this would result in the people demanding a Death Star.

5:09pm. Justin Trudeau wants a ranked ballot. Joyce Murray wants to cooperate with the NDP. Mr. Trudeau happily takes the opportunity to champion a principled Liberal party. Ms. Murray challenges him to demonstrate he has a plan to defeat Stephen Harper. Mr. Trudeau happily takes the opportunity to champion the Liberal party. Here’s my question: How do you cooperate with the NDP if the NDP doesn’t want to cooperate? Are you hoping that NDP riding associations will go maverick and dare Thomas Mulcair to stop them from cooperating with Liberals?

5:16pm. I think David Bertschi just took another shot at the fact that Marc Garneau was in space while Bertschi was doing stuff on earth. How big is the anti-space vote in the Liberal party? Is this an attempt to repeat the Conservative campaign against Michael Ignatieff?

5:24pm. Mr. Takach loves the Internet. He needs to go further with this. Replace the House of Commons with gchat. Reorient our military to cyber-warfare. Give every citizen an iPhone. Turn Manitoba into a cyberworld like Tron.

5:34pm. A three-person debate about living conditions for First Nations and social housing gives Marc Garneau, Justin Trudeau and Martha Hall Findlay a chance to perform directly beside each other. All three probably come away feeling fairly good about their 90 seconds. Give those three an hour on stage together and you might get a real debate (or the sort that could shake this race up a bit).

5:44pm. There’s obviously a good reason to avoid a divisive leadership race: you want to avoid splitting the party, you don’t want to give the Conservatives or New Democrats any fodder for future attacks (remember those Conservative ads with Michael Ignatieff telling Stephane Dion that the Liberals didn’t get it done?). But the conventional wisdom here is that there’s an obvious and clear frontrunner (Mr. Trudeau). So can the other candidates resist the urge to attack him? Can they afford to (if they truly think they have a chance of winning)? Do they just hope he self destructs with his own gaffes? One possible caveat: if, say, the Garneau campaign has some sense that on the ground Mr. Trudeau’s advantage isn’t as great as the conventional wisdom assumes and that, as a result, they can win without having to tear him down.

5:54pm. Joyce Murray shouts out marijuana. More applause. How does the Marijuana Party respond to this? Their central agenda has been completely hijacked by the Liberals. Do they move on to harder drugs? Do they present the Liberals with a proposal to run joint nomination meetings ahead of 2015?

5:57pm. A question about putting a price on carbon. Deborah Coyne says “carbon tax.” Justin Trudeau says a lot of nice words about the unfortunate tenor of political discourse, notes that the Conservatives have acknowledged the need to put a price on carbon, but he doesn’t commit to how he’d put a price on carbon. George Takach says lots of nice words about political centrism and says there are “at least five ways” to put a price on carbon, one of which presumably the Liberals would go with if he was leader. I dare say the Conservatives have successfully scared the crap out of some of their rivals on this file.

6:06pm. Closing statements and that’s that. All in all, it was… fine. Nine candidates squeezed into two hours doesn’t allow for much of a debate. Probably a good day for Justin Trudeau, who showed again what he has to offer as a public figure and wasn’t obviously taken down a peg by any of the other candidates, and Marc Garneau, who made a concerted effort to set himself up as the anti-Trudeau and might’ve succeeded. See this tweet and this tweet from John Geddes. (And then this tweet from Alice Funke.) Not sure the conventional wisdom on this race changes much after this, but Mr. Garneau has to hope that, at the very least, the narrative now makes him the obvious (if still distant) second place.