5 takeaways from Canada’s official electoral debates

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to call an election two years ahead of schedule did not work out as planned.

Polls have always followed a drop in voter support for his Liberal Party and an increase in support for his closest rivals, the Conservatives, leaving parties in statistical equality.

Much of the 36-day campaign, the shortest allowed by law, took place in Canada’s too brief summer, when the minds of many voters were far from politics. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, where the Canadian military fought, further distracted public attention.

So for Mr. Trudeau and his rivals, including the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole, this week’s debates in each of Canada’s official languages ​​were crucial opportunities to define the campaign ahead of election day, September 20.

Mr. Trudeau faced not only Mr. O’Toole, who is leading his party in an election for the first time, but also Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the center-left New Democratic Party; Annamie Paul, who heads the Green Party; and Yves-François Blanchet of the Bloc Québécois, a regional party that supports the independence of Quebec. With the five leaders being given equal time, it was difficult for anyone to get a detailed message across.

Wednesday’s French-language debate often focused on issues of interest to Quebec. With English being the language of three-quarters of Canadians, Thursday’s debate in that language was considered the more important of the two.

In both debates, Mr. Trudeau’s rivals relentlessly challenged him for calling what they saw as an unnecessary election amid the pandemic. The subject came up 13 times during the French-speaking debate.

In 2019, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals failed to secure a majority of seats in the House of Commons. This forced him to rely on votes from opposition parties, usually New Democrats, to pass laws and allowed opposition parties to pool their votes in committees to tackle embarrassing topics. for the government.

Mr Trudeau said he needed a new mandate with a majority in order to quickly put in place stimulus measures in the event of a pandemic. His opponents, however, have repeatedly pointed out that none of Mr. Trudeau’s major goals have been blocked in the past two years, although some important bills have been delayed and then died with the call of an election.

In Thursday’s debate, Mr. O’Toole challenged Mr. Trudeau’s decision to call an election as efforts to repatriate Canadians to Afghanistan and to help Afghans who had worked for the Canadian military were in a phase critical.

“You put your own political interests ahead of the well-being of thousands of people,” Mr. O’Toole said. “Mr. Trudeau, you shouldn’t have called this election; you should have done the job in Afghanistan.

The two-hour debate had a complex structure. Moderator Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, a nonprofit polling organization, asked questions written by a committee, with questions also posed via video by members of the public and on the site by members of the public. journalists.

Ms. Kurl diligently enforced rules that prevented contestants on stage from speaking outside of their turn or answering questions that were not directed to them. There were no closing statements.

Duane Bratt, professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alta., Said the formula worked against Mr. Trudeau, who was constantly the target of the other four leaders, and was helping Mr. O’Toole .

“O’Toole could talk about his climate plan in 30 seconds and then move on to another topic, which I think is what he wanted,” Professor Bratt said. “The formula didn’t give Trudeau time to really dig into some of O’Toole’s weaknesses.”

But voters, Professor Bratt added, were clearly the losers in the debate.

“If this was your first time paying attention to the election, you weren’t served well tonight,” he said.

Climate change, in particular, has emerged as a problem, although no leader has made a convincing case that his party offers the best approach, said Cara Camcastle, who teaches political science at the University. Simon Fraser in Burnaby, British Columbia.

“It’s good to see that all the leaders think this is an important issue,” she said. “But none of them have our own solutions.”

Mr. Trudeau has been attacked on several occasions, particularly by Mr. Singh, for increasing carbon emissions in Canada in each of the six years the Prime Minister has been in office. Trudeau responded that his government’s climate actions, including the introduction of a national carbon price, had put Canada on track not only to meet but also to exceed its emissions commitment under of the Paris Agreement, which has a target date of 2030.

In part because of the thematic approach of the debate organizer, reconciliation with indigenous peoples has received unusual attention.

While all other leaders put Mr. Trudeau’s record aside – he made Indigenous issues a top priority – they all agreed with his position that the process of replacing 19th century laws governing people indigenous peoples must be led by their communities rather than by governments.

Mr. O’Toole’s plan to abolish a Trudeau program under which several provinces offer childcare services for Can $ 10 or less per day with a tax credit has occupied an important place in the French debate. , but was largely bypassed Thursday.

Likewise, Mr. O’Toole’s backtracking on an earlier promise to eliminate Mr. Trudeau’s ban on 1,500 types of semi-automatic assault-type rifles has received limited attention.

Professor Bratt and Dr Camcastle said they believed the two debates would fail to shape what had been a largely shapeless campaign that lacked a clear problem – aside from Mr Trudeau’s decision to call it .

Frank Graves, President of EKOS Research Associates, a survey firm in Ottawa, offered a brutal assessment on Twitter.

“Let me spare you the speculation of who won, lost, what impact,” he wrote. “It was an insane waste of time. Perhaps the most empty and tedious debate in Canadian political history.

Vjosa Isai contributed research.

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