MONTREAL — Some viewers may be forgiven if they have the impression Gilles Duceppe sounds rather familiar in the federal leaders' second French-language debate tonight.
A week after setting his sights primarily on the NDP's Tom Mulcair in the first French debate, the Bloc Quebecois leader will no doubt be looking for a double whammy in the TVA-organized event.
That means more attacks focused on the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies, an issue that appears to have left the NDP increasingly vulnerable in the province that's home to its support base.
Mulcair's steadfast position that women should be allowed to have their face covered when they are sworn in as Canadian is at odds with that of the majority of Quebecers.
With the NDP still atop the polls in Quebec, albeit with a narrower margin than a few weeks ago, Duceppe will be looking at the debate as another opportunity to woo back those voters who deserted the Bloc in 2011 for Jack Layton's party.
Mireille Paquet, an assistant professor in Concordia University's political science department, said she expects Duceppe to stick to his approach of a week ago.
"The strategy was quite good and it actually paid off," Paquet said. "If you look at the polls, the support for the NDP has decreased since the last debate.
"I think Duceppe will maintain the same strategy of obviously attacking Mulcair on (the niqab), as well as just maintaining the fact the party is really the only one to be able to understand and defend the specific positions of Quebecers."
The NDP won nearly 60 of Quebec's 75 seats in 2011 under Layton, reducing the Bloc to four seats. Some observers have suggested Duceppe's party could be shut out in the province — now with 78 ridings — on Oct. 19.
A strong performance by Duceppe tonight could help avoid such an electoral wipeout.
Paquet said she believes the Bloc leader displayed his sharp debating skills last time round.
"Duceppe is known to be an excellent parliamentarian and he really demonstrated that by being able to hold a position, being very solid on his facts as well as on his messaging," she said.
"He demonstrated he is an experienced leader... Especially as he has such a good command of French, he obviously seemed very strong and very grounded, so I would say overall that it was a good performance."
Duceppe might also be inclined to focus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership as he continues his push to preserve the current supply management system, which some fear could be in danger as the trade talks near their end. .
Quebec's milk, egg and poultry producers form a powerful lobby in the province and have made it clear they are not interested in financial compensation in exchange for concessions on supply management, which limits foreign competition.
"I am asking each leader to commit to holding a vote in the Commons on any eventual Trans-Pacific Partnership," Duceppe said as he campaigned Thursday.
"I am also asking Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau to promise to vote against such an agreement if the supply management system is not kept in its entirety."
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