The French-language leaders’ debate last Wednesday plunged into issues on abortion, medical assistance in dying, the urgency of climate change, and Quebec’s controversial provincial law against religious symbols.
The debate, hosted by the French-language television network TVA, was an anticipated event. It was the first debate of the election campaign to feature Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who faced off against Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier were not invited because neither party has won a seat in Quebec.
Trudeau and Blanchet were the only two native French speakers participating in the debate.
Scheer was challenged immediately by Blanchet over his “ambiguous” stance on abortion, over his reluctance to tackle climate change and his plans to build an energy corridor, a proposal that most Quebecers disagree with.
Scheer insisted he would not reopen the debate on abortion. “Canadians can have confidence I will not reopen it. Nothing will change on access to abortion,” said Sheer. He explained that the only ones reopening the issue of abortion are the Liberals.
On climate change, Trudeau was targeted for the Liberal’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, while Scheer was accused by his opponents of having a weak plan to slash greenhouse emissions.
The Conservative leader responded by claiming the federal carbon price “isn’t working” and reiterated his pitch for a hydro corridor, a pipeline, across Canada to be a “win-win” for Quebec and Canada.
Scheer was forced to defend his proposed national energy corridor again.
“Mr. Scheer, you’re going to impose a pipeline on Quebec,” Singh said. “You can’t hide that […] That’s unacceptable.”
Blanchet also attacked the other leaders on Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21, which bans religious symbols in the workplace for certain public sector employees, including teachers, police officers, and judges.
He pointed out that he was the only leader present who supports the law, which remains very popular in Quebec. Trudeau, Scheer, and Singh have all criticized the law, though only Trudeau has stated he will not close the door on a possible federal court challenge of the bill.
Toward the end of the debate, Scheer went after Trudeau for his role in the SNC-Lavalin controversy. In August, the federal ethics watchdog found that Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest rules when he and his staff pressured former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to negotiate a deal with the Montreal engineering corporation to avoid criminal prosecution.
“When Mr. Trudeau was confronted with the facts, he lied,” Scheer said. “He looked Canadians in the eyes, and he said something he knew wasn’t true.”
“Mr. Scheer is saying he wouldn’t defend the Lavalin jobs,” Trudeau responded. “I defended the Lavalin jobs.”
Hours before the debate aired on TVA, Jagmeet Singh was seen shaking hands with the public in Montreal’s Atwater Market when a man approached him, advising Singh to “cut off” his turban.
“You know what?” The man said, leaning in to speak quietly. “You should cut your turban off. You’ll look like a real Canadian.”
“I think Canadians look like all sorts of people,” Singh responded to the man as a CBC cameraman filmed the interaction. “That’s the beauty of Canada.”
At time of publication, the Liberals and Conservatives are polling at an average of 34.0 per cent and 33.6 per cent respectively.
The New Democratic Party is running in third with 14.2 per cent and the Green Party comes in fourth with 9.6 per cent. The Bloc Québécois are polling at 5.2 per cent and the People’s Party at 2.5 per cent.
The poll averages collected are per the CBC’s Poll Tracker.