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A leader takes risks

From the CBC:

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is offering to hold a one-on-one debate in French with Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe on a Quebec television network, CBC News confirmed Wednesday.

Liberal Leader Paul Martin has already rejected a similar suggestion from Duceppe.

"If Paul Martin refuses to stand up for Canada, Stephen Harper will," a Conservative strategist told the Canadian Press late on Tuesday.

Sources say Harper's campaign team will contact the TQS TV network in Quebec on Wednesday to make the offer.

Imagine that such a debate takes place. There is always a risk that Stephen Harper will say something so absurd that it will seriously damage his chances both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. Whether to enter into a debate is not a trivial decision.

Paul Martin has already declined an invitation from Gilles Duceppe to enter into the debate.

But consider what Stephen Harper stands to win and to lose.

As mentioned, the worst case scenario is that he torpedoes his entire campaign with an amazing gaffe. But he takes that risk every day when he talks to reporters. He is confident enough to talk to reporters in unscripted Q&A sessions. He thinks he can control this risk.

Can he beat Gilles Duceppe? Only inasmuch as Gilles Duceppe can lose the debate in the same I described, with some stunning misstep. Again, that is not likely to happen.

But if he can't beat Duceppe, why bother?

Because this is the sort of risk that pays dividends just for trying.

If he appears on TV against Duceppe without Paul Martin, he will be sending a message to Quebeckers that he is a legitimate representative of the federalist option.

Federalist voters will be forced to consider seriously casting their vote with the Conservatives instead of the scandal-ridden Liberals.

Separatist voters will not change their vote, but if Stephen Harper's polling numbers move up in Quebec, especially on a question of being perceived as a leader and garnering respect, the Bloc will feel more comfortable supporting the Conservartives in a minority parliament situation.

Another payoff will be in the rest of Canada. Paul Martin attempted to portray himself as the true defender of Canadian unity during the English-language debate. The fact that he played this up in the English debate means that this message is for the rest of Canada, where many voters will factor in the perception of who will best confront the separatists into their vote.

For some voters, the issue is important enough to tolerate theft and scandal and vote Liberal again.

But if this debate goes forward, the "Captain Canada" cape might well be handed to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. It was Stephen Harper who debated Gilles Duceppe, in French and in Quebec, not Paul Martin.

It was Stephen Harper who took the risk and showed leadership.

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Angry in the Great White North by Steve Janke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at
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