Launched in 2012, TVA's “head-to-head" debate (Face-à-Face) has quickly made an impact on the various election campaigns because of its style, which allows for direct confrontations between party leaders.
The exchanges, which are usually divided into four themes related to current issues, are moderated by TVA's iconic news anchor Pierre Bruneau. Focusing on the key issues for Quebecers in the upcoming election, the fast pace and intense conversations create a heated atmosphere that can, at any moment, catch a party leader off-guard after a clumsy remark or questionable answer.
When aired during a federal election for the first time, in 2015, the debate helped Justin Trudeau and Gilles Duceppe gain significant momentum in Quebec and improve their scores in the various polls that followed the event. The Liberal leader's unexpected performance helped him win a majority of seats in Quebec for the first time in 15 years. As for the Bloc leader, it helped him elect several MPs after the difficult 2011 election, increasing the party’s representation in the House of Commons from 2 to 10 seats.
In 2019, this debate gave wings to Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet, who was on the rise. However, it proved fatal for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who stumbled while answering a question about abortion at the beginning of the debate, depriving his troops of potential gains in Quebec and creating a damaging ambiguity on an issue that quickly resounded across Canada in the aftermath of the debate.
As we approach the 2021 edition of TVA's "Face-à-Face" that will take place on Thursday, September 2, 2021, we've prepared a summary of each leader's main objectives for this first debate:
Justin Trudeau (LPC)
Mr. Trudeau still has difficulty convincing Canadian voters of the need to hold this election. His campaign commitments target families, elderly people and young voters, and represent significant additional spending.
The Liberal Party feels that the Conservative Party and the Bloc are closing in on them in a growing number of Liberal ridings in Quebec and across the country. Trudeau must aim for a clear victory in this first French debate to put his campaign back on track.
Erin O’Toole (CPC)
Mr. O'Toole has had a good start to the campaign but, like it is too often the case with the Conservative Party, candidates' past statements embarrass their leader and cost him precious time. Especially given that these statements are in opposition to Quebec's shared beliefs and values.
Mr. O'Toole has been able to score points with his contract with Quebec and must continue to do so if he hopes to beat Mr. Trudeau. A convincing performance at this first French debate could give his troops an extra boost of confidence and lead them to a winning campaign.
Jagmeet Singh (NDP)
Mr. Singh's decision to bring back Ruth Ellen Brosseau as a candidate in Berthier— Maskinongé was a good move. However, this is the only significant visibility the NDP has had in Quebec since the election was called.
New Democrats need to convince Quebecers that they share their values and priorities and that the party can represent them adequately in Ottawa. This will be a big challenge.
Yves-François Blanchet (BQ)
Mr. Blanchet had the opportunity to increase the Bloc's support and its number of MPs, but his support for Quebec City's “third link” and his rude attitude towards Mr. O'Toole slowed his momentum.
A strong debater when he manages to remain calm, Mr. Blanchet will certainly be the target of criticism from the Conservatives and the Liberals. He will have to regain the touch he had during the 2019 campaign and avoid coming across as arrogant in this debate.
Consult our 2021 Federal Election section to get the latest perspectives from our experts.
——— Guillaume Normandin is a former Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations
——— Guillaume Fillion is a former Director, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Public Relations