OTTAWA – On Oct. 7 all six main federal party leaders squared off for the first time during this campaign, with each leader trying to take their place on the national stage and present themselves to voters as the best choice for Canada’s next prime minister.
Here are seven takeaways from the debate:
1. Trudeau faced the brunt of critiques
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spent most of the evening being challenged on his record over the last four years, from ethics scandals to remaining environmental and reconciliation to-do lists. While he sought to defend what his government accomplished while promising what a re-elected Liberal government would achieve, the other party leaders looked to differentiate themselves to voters, pitting the Liberals’ last four years against the ideas they have to do things differently.
2. Scheer continued to be compared to Harper, Ford
It was the first time Trudeau chose to square off against Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in English and he took that chance to continue to make reference to the records of his predecessor Stephen Harper, and his Ontario counterpart Premier Doug Ford, as part of an ongoing effort to associate Scheer with the negative public sentiment felt by some Canadians about these other Conservative political figures.
Near the end of the debate, Scheer suggested that Trudeau run for the job as Ontario Liberal Leader since he seems so preoccupied with provincial matters.
3. Singh, May offer audience-winning one-liners
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sought to cut through it with a few quips that seemed to be well-received by the audience, including looking directly in the camera to say that voters “Do not need to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny,” referring to Trudeau and Scheer.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also offered a few one-liners, including that she hopes Trudeau does not win a second majority mandate because he doesn’t keep his promises, and then pronouncing that Scheer is “not going to be prime minister.”
4. Blanchet raised profile in English Canada
This is the first federal election campaign in which Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has been at the helm of the party. In the debate he faced off with the other federal leaders on a variety of topics, fleshing out the idea that many Canadians have of the party as separatist-centric.
Blanchet painted what for some viewers was the first picture in this election of what the party currently stands for, while recognizing that his best outcome of this election is not becoming prime minister. He recognizes his best chance is likely to hold the balance of power in a minority scenario, something possible should the party pick up more of the 78 seats in Quebec.
5. Bernier’s positions questioned
There was some skepticism, and even opposition among the other federal party leaders about what having People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier onstage would mean, given he’s pushed divisive positions and has been accused of welcoming hateful views into his party fold.
Early on in the debate Bernier was called out on this, with Scheer questioning which version of Bernier was on stage. Scheer went through the various and evolving policy positions the fledgling party leader has held over his political career, which included time in cabinet.
“You have gone from someone who used to believe in an immigration system that was fair, orderly, and compassionate and now you are making your policy based on trying to get likes and retweets from the darkest part of Twitter,” levelled his once-Conservative leadership opponent.
“Absolutely not,” said Bernier.
6. Enough mudslinging to go around
Over the two hours that the six leaders were on stage each had, and took opportunities that came their way to slam their opponents, sometimes on broken promises or what they thought were underdeveloped policy ideas, but there was plenty of personal attacks peppered throughout the debate.
Scheer was the first to make the pivot from policy to personal, saying: “Justin Trudeau only pretends to stand up for Canada. You know, he’s very good at pretending things, he can’t even remember how many times he put blackface on because the fact of the matter is he’s always wearing a mask… Mr. Trudeau you’re a phony, you’re a fraud and you do not deserve to govern this country.”
7. Several key topics left barely discussed
While lots of ground was covered, the following topics received little to no airtime: foreign policy, international trade, balanced budgets, veterans’ services, seniors, fisheries and farmers, and the entirety of Atlantic Canada.
There is a second Commission-organized debate featuring all six leaders, in French, on Thursday, so perhaps those topics will come up then. Here’s what you need to know about how to tune in to that debate, the last one before election day.