One of the most important renewed challenges facing the federal NDP in the wake of its drop to third in Canada's party standings is that of earning positive public attention. And for the candidates and the party alike, yesterday's inaugural leadership debate served primarily as an important introduction.
Many viewers may have been relatively unfamiliar with the contenders. And they should have been able to develop a fairly strong idea where they're starting from in the leadership campaign.
Niki Ashton was obviously the most comfortable with the format (presumably helped by her having run in the 2012 race as well). And she presented an effective case for movement politics as a response to neoliberal economics, if leaving plenty of room for discussion as to what that will ultimately mean.
Guy Caron's campaign launch has focused on policy (particularly a basic income). But the first debate highlighted how that will fit into a wider campaign: he had a ready answer for many of the economic questions being raised, leaving him ample time to also level pointed criticism at the Trudeau Libs.
In contrast, Charlie Angus elected not to pursue the leader-of-the-opposition position which seemed a natural fit. Instead, he stayed soft-spoken, positive and folksy to good effect - raising the question of whether he may be able to run as the most likeable spokesperson for the values shared by all of the candidates.
And most interestingly, Peter Julian looks to have started the campaign by emphasizing what may be some relatively polarizing issues around pipelines. On paper, Julian looked to have the best chance of winning as everybody's second choice - but his specific criticism of Kinder Morgan and Energy East seems likely to both improve his first-choice support from environmental voters, and limit his voter pool in the case of multiple ballots.
Naturally, we can expect future debates to involve a bit more direct clash between the candidates once their opening themes have had a chance to sink in. And there's certainly ample room for another candidate or two to join the fray.
But for now, members and other viewers were able to see four candidates who check all the boxes for an effective potential leader, while being able to decide among some contrasts in policy and style.
For more, see what Marie-Danielle Smith, John Geddes and Aaron Wherry had to say.