A WRAP UP OF THE FEDERAL LEADERS' DEBATE
By Kirk Winter
I suspect that Andrew Scheer is checking himself for bruises and broken bones after finding himself the “odd man out” at the Federal English language debate on Monday, October 7.
Scheer spent most of the evening defending himself from attacks by the NDP, the Greens, the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals and the People's Party. Particularly ferocious attacks were delivered against Scheer by Elizabeth May of the Greens and Maxime Bernie of the People's Party. It was clear to all who watched that Scheer and Bernier, who wanted Scheer’s job as party leader, have not buried the political hatchet and, if anything, their relationship has become more toxic.
For those who watched something else on Monday night, here is a brief overview of how seasoned debate watchers saw the whole sordid affair play out in two hours of prime time television coast-to-coast in Canada.
Elizabeth May, Green Party: Many, including myself, were impressed with May’s tenacity and focus. She made the “climate emergency” a front and centre issue and almost every question she answered, regardless of the primary issue, tied back to climate. May attacked Scheer and Trudeau equally, and attempted to put space between her party and the NDP and Bloc who have platforms that sound eerily like that being put forward by the Greens. May was vehement in her criticism of climate denier Maxime Bernier, making sure the People's Party leader understood that science does not support his views.
Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party: Trudeau’s goal for the evening was to remain upright and not be knocked down by Scheer, in particular. In that he was successful, but many felt his debate prep was too extensive, leading constantly to answers that were overly long and rushed. Trudeau appeared to be out of breath at times trying to cram a five-minute answer into a 45-second sound bite. Trudeau also enjoyed the more crowded stage as the addition of Green and People's Party leaders shifted the focus to more individuals as each candidate was given equal time regardless of their number of seats in parliament.
Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party: Scheer kept his answers succinct and to the point on many issues, but suffered at times from lack of depth when forced to discuss the merits of some of his plans. Scheer was taken aback by the pushback on his party’s plan to cut foreign aid by 25 percent, claiming that “rich countries” like Mexico did not need Canada’s assistance. Scheer was clearly frustrated by the “pile on” that occurred time and time again with the Conservatives as the main target. Flashes of anger were present in his exchanges with Trudeau on SNC-Lavalin, the Bloc on pipelines and Bernier on almost every issue. Bernier scored the most direct hit of the night on Scheer when he accused Scheer of being “a Liberal and not a true Conservative.” Scheer’s entire face went red and he fired back at Bernier calling him everything including a separatist.
Maxime Bernier, People's Party: With his party excluded from the first French language debate, Bernier needed to be heard and seen in this debate. He certainly achieved that time and time again. Bernier and Scheer were like oil and water, and his anti-deficit crusade brought him into clear contrast with the Greens, Bloc, Liberals and the NDP. His anti-immigration stand brought condemnation from many on the stage, led by Jagmeet Singh, the NDP leader. If anyone was ever wondering, Bernier also clearly stated that he did not believe that the world was facing a “climate emergency”, and even if we were, “Canada only produces 1.2 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, so doing anything about this worldwide problem is clearly beyond the realm of a future prime minister.”
Yves-Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois: Blanchet has the easiest role to play at a debate like this by becoming the self-appointed champion of Quebecer’s rights, which the Bloc believes are being infringed upon by the rest of Canada. Occasionally, Blanchet’s fractured English got in the way of him making his points but,for the most part, Blanchet effectively played the role that Bloc leaders have carved out for themselves for the last 20-plus years. Blanchet found much common ground with fellow democratic socialist Jagmeet Singh and, on certain issues, with the Greens led by Elizabeth May. Blanchet focused his attacks all evening on Andrew Scheer, particularly on Scheer’s promise of a power corridor that would ship western Canadian natural gas and oil to eastern Canada through Quebec. Blanchet hammered Scheer on what he was going to do if the Government of Quebec opposed the pipeline, which they currently do, and whether Scheer would expropriate land in Quebec to build the pipeline.
Jagmeet Singh , New Democratic Party: Singh engaged in a curious tactic for most of the evening by ignoring the scrum going on around him between the other five candidates and using his allotted time to speak directly to Canadian voters. Singh was very hard on Trudeau, claiming time and again that Trudeau mouthed “nice words” but his actions don’t back up those statements. Singh also scored significant points with many Canadians by his use of self-deprecating humour when one of the moderators identified him as Andrew Scheer. Singh responded that he had worn his orange turban that evening just so that confusion would not occur. For a leader whose party is in freefall in the polls, Singh hid it very well, and came across as the kind of multi-cultural success story that most Canadians believe Canada makes possible.
Later this week, all six candidates gather in Quebec for the second French language debate. Maxime Bernier and Elizabeth May, who were excluded from the first debate by the private consortium hosting it because they won no seats in Quebec in 2015, will be present. Scheer will find himself in tough again as the poorest French speaker and the candidate whose policies clash the most with the progressive voter who dominates the Quebec electorate. Scheer had better be ready to more specifically answer questions about abortion, LGBTQ rights and pipeline politics or he could find his evening a very long one, perhaps even longer than he experienced in the first French language debate.