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There Were No Clear Winners in the French Debate, But One Loser

09/25/2015 12:11 EDT | Updated 09/25/2016 05:12 EDT
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Thomas Mulcair, head of the NDP, has not been able to use any of the leaders' debates to stop his party's loss of momentum, making him the loser of this first meeting in French.

Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe performed well, whereas Justin Trudeau stumbled on several occasions and had his worst debate performance since the beginning of the election campaign.

The wearing of the niqab and the constitutional question sharply divided the federal party leaders and created some lively exchanges.

Three of the leaders tried to minimize the importance of uncovering one's face during a citizenship ceremony. Stephen Harper made the first move on the issue by talking about his daughter. Thomas Mulcair jumped in to make the claim that the Prime Minister is hiding behind the niqab to make people forget the last 10 years. "It's a weapon of mass distraction," he retorted.

For Justin Trudeau, the State cannot dictate a woman's dress, period. Green Party leader Elizabeth May, with her one per cent support, tried to bury the issue by asking: "What impact does the niqab have on the economy?"

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe reminded everyone that this is not an insignificant question, as demonstrated by the unanimous vote in the Quebec National Assembly.

The returning political figure looked very comfortable and showed his considerable experience. He tried to elicit commitments from other leaders about health care transfer payments, the employment insurance fund, the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, supply management...

It remains to be seen whether voters still believe the Bloc can make a difference in Ottawa.

The debate was also lively around the issues of abolishing the Senate and the constitutional question. Thomas Mulcair asked voters for a "mandate to eliminate the Senate," with full knowledge that that may be an impossible mission.

It was in fact Duceppe who reminded everyone that the constitution "can't be amended." There was a tangible animosity between Duceppe and Mulcair.

Stephen Harper was true to form and managed to link all his statements to the idea of a responsible government who cuts taxes, ensures security and manages finances. He acted like an (outgoing) prime minister, and provoked the Bloc leader by saying that the issue of constitutional negotiation is "expired."

Aside from Duceppe, the leaders' responses were very scripted. In some cases, the response had nothing to do with the question. Viewers were treated to dozens of "I have a plan for Canada" speeches. The Liberal leader took home the prize for canned responses. Justin Trudeau showed his poor French skills and the Conservative leader stumbled a few times.

As for Ms. May...

The debate on Radio-Canada didn't produce a clear winner. Thomas Mulcair, who appeared to be headed for power only a short while ago, needed to take charge of this encounter to stop his party's decline in the polls. But that didn't happen.

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