Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday September 9, 2021
Lacklustre second leaders debate short on emotion, heavy on talking points
With less than two weeks before election day and an increasingly tight race between parties, Canada’s political leaders had a largely flat debate Wednesday, where each participant mostly served viewers pre-packaged lines on hot-button issues such as the deficits, the environment, healthcare and Indigenous policy.
One of the few lively clashes occurred between Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, not on a substantive policy issue, but rather on if Trudeau was Quebecer or not.
“You do not have a monopoly over Quebec,” Trudeau said to Blanchet, nearly yelling. “You don’t get to accuse me of not being Quebecer enough.”
On stage with Trudeau and Blanchet during the debate Wednesday night were Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party of Canada Leader Annamie Paul.
The Peoples’ party’s Maxime Bernier did not meet the independent commission’s criteria for participation.
The debate was moderated and covered five themes: climate, cost of living and public finances, Indigenous peoples, cultural industries and cultural identity, justice and foreign policy, and pandemic and healthcare
“I’m sorry Mr. Trudeau, but this is an undesired election,” moderator Patrice Roy said to begin the debate, following up with a question to leaders on whether they’d respect a four-year mandate regardless of the outcome (minority or majority) of the Sept. 20 election.
Trudeau did not answer the question, but O’Toole, Singh, Paul and Blanchet each in vague terms seemed to say they would.
“The fact that we are in an election is a consequence of the fact that people are not looking to work together, that things have become hyper partisan,” Paul said.
Just like during the first debate last week, Trudeau was repeatedly grilled by opposition leaders about his decision to call a “selfish” election, a question that already seemed to annoy him just minutes into the debate.
“Viewers can see how deep the differences are in our positions as to how the pandemic should be handled,” Trudeau retorqued at one point. “Canadians should have a say in that.
In addition to moderators Patrice Roy and Noémi Mercier, four francophone reporters were also chosen to quiz the leaders during rapid-fire question periods that were praised on social media for not pulling any punches.
For example, political analyst Hélène Buzzetti asked O’Toole, whose party released its platform costing just before the debate, how he would balance the budget and reduce deficits. “Is it the “O’Toole magic,” she asked after the first half of his response.
O’Toole disagreed while repeating once again that he “has a plan.”
Shortly after, she grilled Singh on his plan to fill the government’s coffers by taxing the rich and multinational companies. How will you do it, she asked, is it “magic thinking?” Singh also disagreed, reiterating his promise to go after the ultra-wealthy.
The first leaders’ faceoff was between Singh and Paul on mandatory vaccination policy. Both leaders agreed that it was important to push for vaccination, but Paul dodged a question on whether she supports mandatory vaccination.
Eventually, the moderator asked Trudeau if by pushing people to get vaccinated more, he wasn’t pushing some to rebel further and avoid vaccination. Trudeau said it was a “false debate” and that it was time to get people vaccinated to return to normal life.
The moderator then asked Trudeau how much Canada paid for all our vaccines, which Trudeau once again avoided. “We paid competitive prices, but for competitive reasons, I cannot tell you,” he said.
On the topic of labour shortages that are rampant across the country, leaders were divided on solutions, where O’Toole and Blanchet argued that COVID-19 benefits like the Canada Recovery Benefit needed to be phased out. Singh, Trudeau and Paul disagreed, with the latter challenging others to replace those benefits with universal basic income.
Just like in last week’s debate on TVA, O’Toole face some difficult moment when he was criticized by both Trudeau and Blanchet for his plan to replace the Liberal’s bilateral agreements with most provinces to fund $10 per day daycare spots with a tax credit directly to parents.
Trudeau accused O’Toole of “not even understanding” Quebec’s daycare system, noting that low-income Quebecers “don’t even pay for daycare.”
The topic of environment was launched by a question from 11-year-old Charles, who said that he was already concerned for his children’s future due to the “climate crisis.”
In their responses, Trudeau pointed to the government’s net-zero legislation, O’Toole touted the Conservative plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, and Paul argued that on climate, the Greens are the only choice. Singh criticized Trudeau for increasing GHG emissions during his time as prime minister.
Each leader was eventually asked what they would do with the TransMountain pipeline that the Trudeau government purchased to develop. The Liberal leader said Indigenous communities needed the money from the project, O’Toole said that it was necessary for Western Canadian workers, and Blanchet noted that he would use the money from it to help fund Alberta’s “much needed” transition away from oil.
Paul said that she was opposed to the pipeline and that she does not expect anyone to draw a profit from it, whereas Singh said he was opposed to the project, but when pressed, said an NDP government would considering keeping it.
Trudeau said that “every other leader’s plan here relies on magic thinking”.
To open questions on Indigenous issues, leaders were asked if they would make First Nations’ languages as well as Inuit and Metis as official languages of Canada. Most leaders skirted the question all the while emphasizing the importance of preserving those languages and making sure their speakers can use them when accessing government services. (The National Post)