The first leaders’ debate of Canada’s 43rd general election went down Thursday night. Rather than declaring a winner or trying to tell a coherent story about a debate that was, at times, incoherent, here’s a list of memorable takeaways.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, conspicuous by his absence, scored some 40 name drops during the course of the debate. His record was criticized on every policy topic — the economy, Indigenous issues, the environment and foreign policy.
It’s not like he wasn’t given the opportunity to defend himself. As debate moderator Paul Wells pointed out in his opening comments, “We left the invitation — and his podium — open, right up to air time.”
Everyone’s past came back to haunt them
As moderator, Wells was the guy who reminds everyone about that thing you want to forget. In Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s case, it was a 2017 tweet that he was “Pro-Brexit before it was cool.”
For Green Leader Elizabeth May, it was a questionable suggestion that SNC-Lavalin be sentenced to community service, building infrastructure in Indigenous communities.
And for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, it was his waffling around support for a politically sensitive LNG project in B.C. that he’d clearly prefer not to talk about, lest he irk his provincial NDP counterpart, who’s behind the project.
I know a guy
There was definitely a lot of name dropping happening Thursday night, though the result may have been less impressive than the leaders hoped.
“It’s very important that federal government works in partnership with First Nations communities,” said Scheer. “I’ve got a great relationship with Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde, he actually comes from my home riding.”
Several times, Singh evoked unnamed Canadians who are apparently very concerned about the price of medication and air quality.
And May made a rather obscure reference to the ventriloquist’s dummy Charlie McCarthy, to whom she likened Scheer (suggesting he would follow Donald Trump’s lead on foreign policy). He appeared to know exactly who she was taking about: “That’s just false.”
Millennials viewers perked up when they heard Singh get colloquial in a clapback.
“I’mma give you some advice here — pro tip, don’t double down on that,” Singh shot back at Scheer, who was criticizing the NDPs’ pharmacare plan by arguing that the vast majority of Canadians are already eligible for prescription coverage, and the focus should be on those who “fall through the cracks”.
Scheer later fired back a barb of his own. When Singh accused the former Conservative government of working for the wealthy, Scheer interjected.
“I didn’t cut you off when you were talking,” said Singh. To that, Scheer replied, “I didn’t say things that aren’t true.”
Things got scary
From the economy to the environment, leaders used the threat of looming crises to underscore their policy points — and detract from those of their opponents.
“When times are good, that is the time to pay down debts so there’s more flexibility,” Scheer argued, in a critique of the current Liberal government’s spending.
“There are some very troubling signs on the horizon that Canada may be heading in to some difficult periods … we are going to hit those times in a very difficult position, without that type of flexibility.”
Dun dun dun.
Asked about her plan to retrofit every building in Canada to make them all carbon neutral within a 10-year period, May painted a terrifying picture of the climate crisis.
“We’re worried about the survival of human civilization through the lifetime of our children. Because if we go above 1.5 degrees Celsius global average temperature increase, we’re looking at the risk of runaway global warming — of self-accelerating, unstoppable, catastrophic changes, which no civilization can survive.”
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. All the party leaders at the debate were able to come to a consensus: “I think we can all agree that Justin Trudeau is afraid of his record, and that’s why he’s not here today,” Scheer suggested.
May agreed: “We can now sing Kumbaya and keep going.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019