In perhaps my longest ever session watching CPAC (and they have no commercials! when is a man supposed to take a bathroom break!), I watched the 2 hour English leader debate held yesterday in Vancouver. This followed a French debate the day before, which was apparently a bit more timid.
While I don't necessarily have a perfect memory, here's a few of the issues that may be relevant to readers here.
Western alienation: How do you deal with the western provinces feeling left out or without a voice in Ottawa? Well Harper says that's what the Senate is for (regional representation), and insisted strongly that he would make the Senate elected instead of appointed. Martin instead said he tries to keep the West involved by appointing high-profile cabinet positions from the West (eg. Ujjal Dossangh (sp?)). Layton just said that NDP MPs could represent the West in the HoC. And Duceppe of course with your standard "The West wants in, Quebec wants out", emphasizing that Quebec has plenty of influence, but still wants to leave.
Tax break: Huge surplus = time for tax break. Martin thinks the best way is through an income tax cut, while Harper thinks a GST cut would be more effective. In general, the income tax cut would likely mean more $$ for working Canadians than a GST cut, but not help those at the low end of the scale as much; one example being the disabled woman with no income who asked the question. Heh, for you students out there, GST cut for the win. Duceppe wanted to exempt certain items from GST, which the others thought would be expensive administratively. Also, Layton hammered on the issue of the Liberal's corporate tax cut, which were blocked by the NDP last year, and came back to the table just before the election - Martin wasn't commenting on it at all, and preferred to switch the topic as quickly as possible to the personal income tax topic.
Gay marriage: Harper wants to have a free vote on it, but wouldn't use the notwithstanding clause to enforce it. Martin basically says the Charter is clear, and therefore Harper can't possibly enforce his party's predominent view of traditional marriage. Duceppe and Layton both supported gay marriage, plus rather sarcastically reminded people that the issue was already voted on and resolved in a free vote, so why are we still debating. Though I find it a little hypocritical that Duceppe would say that there's no need to revote on decided issues; how many referendums have we had in Quebec so far?
Voting/accountability: Harper keeps singing about some "Federal Accountability Act", while Layton keeps talking about the "Ed Broadbent report". Both want fixed election dates, and the latter (though not mentioned in the debate) also proposes a move to mixed proportional representation. Layton was eager to prevent MPs from switching parties (but they could still go independent) without first having a byelection, Harper just wants to prevent the Liberals from buying off his MPs but doesn't want to go as far as Harper. Martin just sang his own praises for the Gomrey commission, while Duceppe emphasized how much money Martin has taken away. Pretty much all of them were eager to limit contributions from unions and companies, and limit individual donations to parties to small values, though it strikes me that this was really a process started by Chretien's Liberals (and I have trouble believing Martin likes it, he's quite the big-spending corporate fundraising dinner lackey, or at least he used to be).
The rest of the discussion, while exciting and all, didn't highlight any serious platform differences and were just taking shots at each other for votes. All four were very good speakers, though Layton in particular had a tendancy to abuse timelimits and was cut off several times, and his opening and closing speeches were a bit too memorized.
Next round is in January, and they should be quite interesting indeed!