Justin Trudeau survived, Andrew Scheer started there on the blackface scandal and populists courted north-of-the-border Trump devotees with a “Canada First” promise.
Two weeks before Oct. 21 elections, Canada’s six party commanders took the stage at the National History Museum in Gatineau, Quebec on Monday night — and with only one official English language debate scheduled , none of them could render to misfire. Canadians may be a polite bunch, but this was a raucous, squabbling debate.
All eyes were on the once-ascendant Trudeau; just recently an icon of world liberals, he’s been hobbled by a series of scandals and came in with much to lose, including his majority government. For Conservative opposition leader Scheer, it was a final chance to overtake Trudeau’s Liberals in a race that’s neck-and-neck, according to national polls. Feeding into that cacophony were regional and fringe parties, including the People’s Party and the Bloc Quebecois, which could play a huge role as spoilers and shaking the election to Trudeau’s Liberals — or condemn them to a minority government in a few short weeks. Early voting in the election starts Friday.
Here are five key takeaways from POLITICO’s reporting team in Gatineau and Washington, D.C .:
Trudeau didn’t lose — but he didn’t win
Justin Trudeau had the most to lose; he’s had a bad few weeks since photos were liberated of him in racist makeup, and that came after a bad few months of discoveries about the SNC-Lavalin scandal. So Trudeau played protection most of Monday evening, as rivals on the left and right tried to tackle him. It was always going to be hard for him to assert his prime ministerial authority. He could either wrestle with his five noisy antagonists or look on passively from a distance. Endeavours to do both constructed him search median , not unstoppable. After initially holding back from the fray, in the second half of the debate Trudeau tried to turn provincial issues — like Quebec’s Bill 21 on religious headwear in government workplaces and the unpopularity of Ontario Premier Doug Ford — into national ones. It’s not clear it worked. Trudeau’s strongest minutes came in explaining his “ambitious but feasible” climate policies. They were attacked relentlessly, and sometimes reasonably, but his adversaries didn’t demonstrate their own strategies were more workable.
Andrew Scheer extended the prime minister plausibility test
Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer — largely unknown internationally — succeeded on two fronts, which delivers him a levels succes rather than a knockout blow against Trudeau. First, Scheer proved he can play a moderate when he wants to — something that is essential for him to win over suburban voters around Toronto. Canada’s Liberals, after all, want voters to lump Scheer together with Donald Trump. But Scheer was able to brush past Trudeau’s efforts to hammer him for his republican past and current vistums on social hot-buttons like abortion. Scheer was also aggressive and successful in confronting Trudeau on his ethical and climate negations. He put in several exchanges that allowed voters to be addressed by him and think “there’s my next prime minister.”
Scheer can also consider himself luck that People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier was fairly ineffectual in attacking him from the privilege, in recognition of the fact that his moderate tone left him exposed on that flank. For all that work and good fortune, Scheer did not deliver a knock-out blow: in fact, he was weakest during what ought to have been his strong suit, the debate segment on pocketbook issues. It’s still Trudeau’s election to lose.
Scheer weaponizes the blackface scandal
Scheer brought up Trudeau’s blackface scandal as Exhibit A of his broader occurrence against the prime minister. While the polemic, amazingly, did not come up in the first French-language debate last week, Scheer employed the Monday exchange to call Trudeau a phony who’s alienated the voters who believed in him. Remember: For Scheer to prevail Oct. 21 he needs liberals to abandon Trudeau for the NDP and Greens, dividing the vote on the left. So Scheer turned the blackface scandal into an attack. “He can’t even remember how many times he set blackface on. Because the fact of the matter is he’s always wearing a mask, ” Scheer said, alluding to how Trudeau, the self-proclaimed feminist, dumped female Cabinet members who intersected him. “Mr. Trudeau, you are a phony, you are a fraud, and you do not deserve to govern this country.” It’s notable that Scheer delivered his toughest shot right off the top; last week in the French debate, pundits concluded he’d had a weak start, when “the worlds largest” onlookers are tuned it. Scheer’s poll numbers subsequently sagged in Quebec.
Populism is now part of Canadian politics
For decades, Canadian registered political party have espoused multiculturalism, yet on Monday night People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier immediately bemoaned current migration levels. He said Canada adds “the equivalent of one Nova Scotia every three years.” He likewise winked at pro-Trump Canadians with an early reference to “Canada First.” But it’s unclear how much of a dent he truly stimulated. Bernier’s national poll amounts are atrocious, and, speaking in his second language, English, he wasn’t nearly as refined as the mainstream Conservative, Scheer, whom he’s hoping to challenge. Scheer almost certainly got the better of their exchanges. And he created real doubts concerning the authenticity of Bernier’s Canadian populist turn. Sheer alluded to Bernier once having been a Quebec separatist, and to his past as a small-government libertarian in a mainstream Conservative Cabinet before its most recent, and sudden, simulating of Trump. “I’m not sure which Maxime Bernier I’m debating tonight, ” Scheer said.
Left-wingers won the battle of the minor parties.
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party leader Elizabeth May property more solid punches against Trudeau, from whom they need to steal referendums, than Bernier did in targeting Scheer. The debates hold outsize importance for minor parties because they’re rare opportunities to get in front of millions of voters on an equal footing as the major parties. On the left, Singh made sure to set himself apart from Trudeau on everything from taxes to indigenous relations. He also went in on the Liberals’ climate record and the Conservatives’ plan simultaneously, telling the voters they “do not need to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny.” Having had the worst year of all the minor parties in national opinion poll, Singh had the most room for improvement and he applied it.
May took all other commanders to duty on their climate designs — a Green Party leader would do that — but she made sure to turn immediately to Trudeau to register her frustration with his climate record , was indicated that Canada is far from achieving the carbon emission reductions scientists say are necessary to avert the worst warming of countries around the world. Her main point: Trudeau does not deserve to govern alone in a second term, and the Greens deserve to be the junior spouse comprising him to account. Her killer line: “Voting for Green MPs is your very best guarantee, Canada, that you don’t get the government you least want.”
Scheer did a better task pushing back his fringe menace. In an early exchange on immigration, he plunged one of several allusions to Bernier being a fraud. “You have changed, ” Scheer told the self-styled populist. “Now you are stirring your plan based on trying to get Likes and Retweets from the darkest parts of Twitter.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
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