The English language leadership debate Monday night gave most Canadians their first chance to watch frontrunners Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau have a go at each other this campaign. And they likely left feeling somewhat disappointed.
No cliched “knockout punch” was thrown but two hours of grown adults—there were allegedly six on stage—yelling over each other did make for dry entertainment. Scheer and Trudeau going back-and-forth made for some fun (well, “fun”) fireworks but the debate was mostly about Trudeau defending his record from just about everyone else on stage.
The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh took advantage of the Scheer-Trudeau scuffles by getting in a few well-timed chirps about how much the two bickered. It worked a few times and Singh may have again distinguished himself for the positive messaging this campaign. That may help him going into the 2023 election.
Anyways, enough introducing. Here are seven quick takeaways from tonight’s debate.
Scheer had his zingers prepared for Trudeau
Scheer could barely wait to get at Trudeau and basically ignored an initial question about Canada’s international leadership to throw a couple (seemingly very scripted) verbal shots at the Liberal leader.
Scheer called Trudeau incompetent: “He can’t even remember how many times he put blackface on,” he said. ”Mr. Trudeau, you are a phony, you are a fraud. You don’t deserve to lead this country.”
Trudeau took repeated hits on how he handled the SNC-Lavalin scandal and pushed out former justice minister Jody-Wilson Raybould, but was able to stay on script by repeatedly saying he was looking out for Canadian jobs.
Trudeau also attacked provincial Conservative leaders Jason Kenney and Doug Ford by criticizing their austerity-based policies, but Scheer later got in a good line by asking Trudeau to run for the Ontario Liberal leadership if he’s so obsessed with provincial politics. (Advice to Trudeau, your retort should have been “I don’t need to run in Ontario to fight Ford; we have you federally.” Advisor Gerald Butts should have seen that coming.)
While Trudeau and Scheer yelled at each other, Singh took advantage
When the Trudeau-Scheer battle became incoherent, Singh jumped in and got a couple of clear smooth lines in, perfect for his social media ads.
“What we have here is Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer arguing over who is worse for Canada. We have to start talking about who’s best for Canada,” Singh said at one point.
On climate change, Singh got a laugh from the crowd as he said right after another Trudeau-Scheer spat, “You don’t have to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny.”
Truthfully, it sounded a lot better in the moment than when you write it down an hour later. But still, Singh likely made a strong impression on Canadians, maybe not in the way that will cause anyone to vote for him, but at least in getting to better know him. He got a couple of laughs from the audience, made the People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier look irrelevant immediately, and made up for his lack of federal experience with clear, digestible statements.
Scheer gets smoked a couple of times on Quebec
As Scheer attacked Trudeau on SNC-Lavalin, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet took the opportunity to poke Scheer on Quebec issues, once by saying that Scheer peddles the idea that Quebec is a corrupt province. Blanchet also went at Scheer about not respecting Quebec’s wishes by saying how the Conservatives won’t consult the province on building pipelines.
Scheer did his best to defend but the attack seemed to catch him off guard.
Then, out of nowhere, Bernier yelled, “I was the only leader to say that corporations are not above the law!”
Everybody broke into laughter because it’s not true (just like when they laughed later on when Bernier said his hard-right People’s Party “is the true environment party”).
Laughing at Bernier was the easiest thing about this debate.
Bernier was a dumpster fire
Bernier started off the night answering a question on foreign policy by calling all the other leaders “globalists,” basically a far-right dog whistle.
The moderator at the time, CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme, then put a good question to Bernier about why he’s such a racist on Twitter.
Bernier responded with a relatively safe answer (for him) about not allowing multiculturalism to compromise Canadian identity. But as other candidates weighed in with their own attacks on him, Bernier descended on stage to the point where he was essentially screaming over everyone with nonsense.
It took practically no time to reveal why it was a bad idea to include him in the debate.
Singh dodged the question on Quebec’s Bill 21
Singh got asked about why he wouldn’t challenge Quebec’s law barring public workers from wearing religious symbols on the job, despite always harping about being against such a law.
Singh essentially dodged the question by saying that he’s always been against the bill (in theory) and will always fights against discrimination.
This opened it up for Trudeau to say that, unlike Singh and the other leaders, he’ll challenge the bill if re-elected. Yes, Trudeau the three-time (as far as he remembers) brown- and blackface guy, challenged Singh on Bill 21. Singh should probably have just pointed out the irony but opted instead to stick to saying how he fights racism on a daily basis. It was kind.
Bernier also chimed in with something very right-wingy, to which Singh replied, “You don’t deserve a platform tonight.” It was definitely one of the most satisfying moments of the debate.
Trudeau defended his environmental record, Scheer said little about his
Scheer found himself agreeing with Singh a couple of times when the NDP leader called Trudeau out for being a hypocrite for saying one thing and doing another.
Basically, it turned out that anyone willing to trash Trudeau for the night found an ally in Scheer. This became obvious toward the end.
Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May—who did well on hammering the Liberal leader on his climate targets—called Trudeau out for spending $4.5 billion to buy a pipeline while campaigning as Mr. Environment. Scheer called him out too, but for failing to see through more pipeline projects. Trudeau tried to counter the attacks by repeating that only his Liberal plan is “both ambitious and doable,” very scripted stuff.
Maybe six people on stage is too many
Aside from a very crowded stage, each candidate was limited to sound bites of about 40 seconds each given the two-hour time limit.
At the end of the day it’s not like any of them could’ve said anything substantial within that span to change people’s minds about them.
Maybe leave out the far-right troll next time?
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