For the second time during Canada’s 42nd federal election campaign, party leaders met in Montréal to face-off in a French debate organized by the television network, TVA. The format of was slightly different from the previous French debate: Elizabeth May did not participate, and the four leaders squared off in six face-to-face discussions for four minutes while each section ended with an open debate.
Given the format of the one-on-one showdowns, the leaders’ individual attacks were more prominent. Each had their chance to be heard with minor interruptions, making their delivery of statements much more animated and engaging. For the most part, the leaders repeated their campaign commitments. Unlike the previous English and French debates, however, were the number of hard-hitting one liners from each of the candidates.
The debate covered three themes: the economy and public finances; security and Canada’s place in the world; and social policy and governance. The hot topics of the night ranged from the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the Niqab issue and the legalization of marijuana. Absent from the debate were discussions on Aboriginal affairs.
In a Léger poll released on Friday, October 2, the NDP showed a notable downward trend, with the Liberals and Bloc Québécois making gains in Québec.
With the NDP’s recent dip in the polls, the stakes were high going into the debate for NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair. Overall, Mulcair performed well and made obvious attempts to appeal to Québec voters. He repeatedly reminded viewers of his past experience as a Québec Environment Minister and past record protecting the province’s interests.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper was once again on the defense as he was the subject of a barrage of attacks on his record as Prime Minister. Mulcair went as far as referring to Harper’s leadership tenure as the “dark ages.” Despite the repeated blows to his record, Harper stood his ground and fared well against the attacks.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau came out strong during the debate. With momentum from the polls behind him, Trudeau was comfortable and debated passionately. That said, he avoided directly answering many questions, especially those regarding euthanasia, which he did not respond to at all.
Finally, Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois who have been making gains in the province, fought hard in an attempt to showcase his party as a champion of Québec values. On the offense for much of the debate, Duceppe reminded voters that the Bloc has not lost all relevance.
Elizabeth May was the only party leader who was not invited to the debate but was, however, active on social media while promoting her party’s position on issued being debated.
Viewers did not have to wait long to see some fiery exchanges between the leaders. The debate opened with a section on the Economy and Public Finances with Mulcair and Trudeau going head to head on the subject of deficits. Mulcair promised to eliminate the “gifts” that he accused Harper of bestowing on large enterprises so to eliminate poverty amongst children in Canada, while Trudeau stuck to his line on investing immediately given ideal interest rates. Mulcair did not wait long to hurl on attack at Trudeau for supporting Harper on a laundry list of items, including the controversial anti-terrorism law, Bill C-51 and the Keystone XL Pipeline.
When Duceppe forced Mulcair to take a stance on TransCanda’s Energy East pipeline, viewers got a chance to witness a passionate exchange between the pair. The NDP leader retorted that his party does not support the project, especially under Harper’s current system.
This section of the debate continued to harvest passionate exchanges. Duceppe demanded that Harper open up and provide details on supply management details in the looming TPP Agreement, which sparked heated discussions on free trade agreements and Harper’s lack of transparency during the ongoing negotiations.
Security and Canada’s Place in the World
On Security and Canada’s Place in the World, the leaders discussed topics ranging from Canada’s military involvement, to the Syrian refugee crisis, to climate change. Where Harper and Duceppe maintained that Canada should play a military role in international affairs, Mulcair and Trudeau argued that Canada should play humanitarian role.
While Duceppe and Harper sided together on the role of Canadian military, Duceppe pointed out that Canada’s place in the world has faltered under the leadership of Harper. He pointed to Harper’s weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, and Harper corrected Duceppe by adding that it was a vehicle deal, and many vehicles that were sold to the Saudi’s were manufactured by Québec companies.
Social Policy and Governance
On the issue of women being veiled at citizenship ceremonies, Mulcair accused Harper of using the Niqab issue as “a weapon of massive distraction,” upon admitting that the face veil makes him “uncomfortable”.
Trudeau brought about another round of fervent exchanges when attempted to downplay the issue and took aim at Harper’s caucus.
The leaders were asked about the abolishment of the Senate. The number of recent scandals were brought up by Mulcair, Trudeau and Duceppe in an attempt to knock Harper off of his game. Unmoved by their criticism, Harper replied by saying that “No money was lost, and no money was stolen.”
In an attempt to appeal to the dwindling number of Québec sovereigntists, Duceppe stated that Canada should not only abolish the Senate, but also cut its ties with the Monarchy.
The debate closed with 90 seconds of uninterrupted television time for each leader. The candidates used this time to leverage their party’s positions and describe why they are ideal contenders to be the next Prime Minister.
According to trends on social media platforms during and after Face à Face 2015, some lighthearted exchanges between Duceppe and Trudeau proved to be highlights of the debate. The most notable exchange transpired when Trudeau accidentally referred to Duceppe as “mon amour” (my love), rather than “mon ami” (my friend), in a comical slip of the tongue. Several times during the debate, Duceppe wrongfully referred to Mark Carney as the late actor, Art Carney. After Duceppe’s third misstep, Trudeau quickly corrected Duceppe – which also garnered some laughs amongst the pundits and attention in social media.
Overall, the debate did not provide viewers with anything new. At this point in the campaign, it is unlikely that a huge turning point will transpire. This has been a long campaign, with 5 debates and as this one was the last one, party leaders were used to delivering their lines and therefore nothing came out of this debate. All party leaders achieved their objective: Harper showed that stability is in the best interest of Canadians, Mulcair reminded viewers that it was time for a change and he was the best alternative, Trudeau demonstrated that he was ready to be Prime Minister and Duceppe showed that the Bloc is still relevant.