Debates are always tricky for party leaders. Older folks will remember when John Turner who was put in a box by Brian Mulroney in 1988 on a question of partisan appointments, or Bernard Landry, in 2003, who had to answer Jean Charest's question on an embarrassing statement made by Jacques Parizeau about the results of the 1995 referendum. We did not witness this kind of moment, which greatly influenced the outcome of these elections at the time, during last night's debate organized by the Leaders' Debates Commission at the beautiful Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. Less than a week after TVA's "Face-à-Face" debate, Mr. Trudeau, Mr. O'Toole, Mr. Blanchet and Mr. Singh jousted again along with Green Party leader, Annamie Paul who joined the group this time.
Led smoothly by host Patrice Roy, who was skillfully assisted by Noémi Mercier, Wednesday night's debate will unfortunately not go down in history. Does the five-leader format prevent a real debate? The question deserves to be asked. However, it is important to highlight the presence of the four journalists (Hélène Buzzetti, Paul Journet, Guillaume Bourgault-Côté and Marie Vastel) who directly asked the five leaders relevant and straightforward questions, forcing them to state their position.
Justin Trudeau responded well to his opponents' attacks. An incumbent Prime Minister inevitably has to defend his record while providing voters with a clear vision of what he proposes. This is not an easy task, regardless of the party leader. His strong reaction about his pride of being a Quebecer was his best moment of the evening.
Erin O'Toole has a plan. Everyone knows it now. He will have to sell it better over the next few days, especially in Quebec. Mr. O'Toole did not stand out from his opponents during last night's debate and didn't take much space. His real chance to do so will surely come in the English debate.
Yves-François Blanchet will always have the language advantage in a French debate. It was once again the case last night. Often attacked on several fronts, including on his record as Quebec's Minister of the Environment, he was able, yesterday and during TVA's debate, to reply to his opponents effectively.
Jagmeet Singh delivered the same kind of performance as last week. However, the presence of the Green Party leader on the panel forced him to stress the differences between the two parties, which often target the same voters, young voters especially. Mr. Singh did not make much of an impression in the debate, but he did not make any mistakes either.
As for Green Party leader Annamie Paul, she had a unique opportunity to score points with voters who know little about her, but she was unable to do so. Some will even question the relevance of her presence at the debate as polls give her less than 10 percent of voting intentions. Ms. Paul will need to raise her profile in Quebec if she wants to continue to lead the Greens after September 20.
Best quotes of the debate
(All quotes are translated since the debate was held in French).
“I’m a proud Quebecer, […] you do not have unanimity in Quebec.” (Justin Trudeau, irritated by one of Yves Blanchet's statements)
"I trust the Quebec government." (Erin O'Toole on the issue of Quebec's jurisdiction in health)
"The fairy tale pumpkin carriage will soon turn into a pumpkin." (Yves-François Blanchet criticizing his opponents' positions on fighting climate change)
"It makes me sad to say this, but we have the worst record in the G7." (Jagmeet Singh reacting negatively to the Liberal climate change plan)
"It's time to be ambitious." (Annamie Paul when explaining that her party is different)
Impact on the rest of the campaign
As we approach the end of the campaign and the national polls forecast a long and unpredictable election night, the leaders have now used all their French platforms to promote their views. While the September 8 debate has again provided us with a few gems that will complement the campaign speeches, we will find out early this weekend if the polling curves, which are currently parallel, will move in a significant way.
With 12 days to go before the election night that will determine the future of the various leaders and their parties, all eyes will be on the numbers that will set the tempo for the final week. Let's use a sports analogy: the final round is underway!
Consult our 2021 Federal Election section to get the latest perspectives from our experts.