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Federal Election 2021: A high-stake audition

Canadian Museum of History

After the French debate that aired on Radio-Canada, the stage is set for what is undoubtedly the most important moment of this campaign: the only English-language debate, a momentous opportunity for all national political parties to both consolidate their support levels and win over undecided voters.

With the CPC and the LPC neck-and-neck, the upcoming debate is likely going to give an edge to the eventual victor. On the other end, should either Erin O’Toole or Justin Trudeau fail to impress, the road to government will become that much steeper.

In NATIONAL’s view, each party will enter the last debate of the campaign with a key area of focus:

Liberal Party: finally set the agenda

Justin Trudeau spent the first half of the campaign on his back foot, as his opponents successfully conveyed that an election was not necessary. Struggling to articulate a reason go to the polls, the Liberals lost their comfortable lead. With the CPC going through its bits of struggles, Justin Trudeau can finally go on the offensive, by highlighting why his government still has much to accomplish and how the CPC of 2021 is still very much entrenched in the ways of the Harper years.

Conservative Party: stay the course and pivot back to message

Erin O’Toole’s bold shift to the centre, highlighted by a clear focus on the working class, has so far proven successful. However, flip-flops on issues such as medical assistance in dying, the firearms ban and the vaccination of federal bureaucrats have recently challenged his campaign, which, by extension, opened up opportunities for the Liberals to pivot on these issues and show contrast. Erin O’Toole needs to end such speculation in a convincing way—and narrow in on a closing message before the September 20 election day—while circling back to the narrative that brought him to the dance: a Conservative government will have workers’ backs.

New Democratic Party: speak to urban voters

Jagmeet Singh’s leadership race victory in 2017 was seen as an opportunity to woo over voters from urban centres and ethnic minorities. It has yet to generate results. Exhibit A? The 2019 election, which saw the party lose seats. While the party’s initial efforts proved unsuccessful, however, current polls highlight opportunities to snatch seats in Toronto and Vancouver. With a loyal membership that has proven patient but now needs to see concrete results, it is time for Mr. Singh to take action and help deliver these crucial segments of voters. Otherwise, Mr. Singh and the party risk losing support to the Liberals as the election closes.

Bloc Québécois: avoid getting too comfortable

It is unlikely that the English debate will reverberate much in Quebec compared to the French TVA and Radio-Canada debates. Nonetheless, Yves-François Blanchet will need to be careful not to make any mistake that could threaten the party’s current standing. Quebecers understandably hate to be taken for granted and would be quick to jump ship if Blanchet’s confidence leads him towards speaking out of turn—or raise his fist (a symbol that continues to haunt the provincial Parti Québécois to this day).

Green Party: show something. Anything

The Green Party has essentially garnered headlines for all the wrong reasons. From the constant in-fighting between leader Annamie Paul and various factions of her own party, to the accidental endorsing of the Liberal Party’s environmental plank, the Greens have essentially showcased an amateurish behaviour unbefitting of the rigours of government. Annamie Paul has also yet to leave Toronto during Election 2021 and is squarely focused on winning her downtown Toronto riding against a Liberal incumbent. By any objective measure, she is simply not running a national campaign—the Greens are instead essentially running a series of local and regional races. But a good performance at a national debate can give Ms. Paul the boost to finally showcase her leadership chops. And while climate change has yet to dominate Election 2021, she has the chance to press leaders on where they stand, what they intend to do, and how only the Green Party offers the most comprehensive plan to address climate change. A tall task—yet a major opportunity.

Heading for the September 20 finish line

The stage is set for what will be the official start of the final leg of the campaign. Multiple national polls show an almost dead heat between the Conservatives and Liberals.

Who will make the best case to Canadians? And with Labour Day behind us, and Canadian families across the country now with kids back in school, how will this campaign break in the final weeks?

NATIONAL will be watching with close attention.

Consult our 2021 Federal Election section to get the latest perspectives from our experts.