GATINEAU, QUE. — The six main federal leaders faced off for the last time Thursday during the second French debate of the 43rd Canadian election.
The format allowed more pointed questions to be asked and had fewer leaders speaking over each other — and, as such, viewers learned more about the party’s positions.
Here are a few things that stood out:
People’s Party of Canada Maxime Bernier had his best debate
Bernier, who was debating in his mother tongue, called out the other party leaders for being “hypocrites” on climate, saying they all claimed to be doing everything to address climate change but in actuality had no solutions. He said he didn’t believe in a climate emergency and felt we ought to study the impact of the sun on climate change, not simply greenhouse gas emissions.
Bernier looked a senior in the eye who wanted to know what the party leaders would do to help those over 65 living alone and told her he would do nothing. “I’m not trying to buy your vote with your money, I’m telling you the truth,” Bernier said. Canada is in debt, the PPC leader added, saying he will be focused on eliminating the deficit in two years.
Earlier: Trudeau, Bernier polar opposites on climate
Bernier said Scheer and Trudeau would not balance the budget. “[Scheer is] promising to balance the budget in five years, and he is asking you for a mandate of four years, which means nobody will balance the budget.”
The country’s credit card is maxed out, he said. If there is a recession, he added, Canada needs to have some flexibility.
“The only promise I am making you,” Bernier said, “is cuts.”
Trudeau suggests he might impose a pipeline on Quebecers
While he pleaded with francophones to vote for a government that really wanted to address climate change, as opposed to parties — such as the Bloc Québécois, which would not in any measure enact a pan-Canadian climate plan — the Liberal leader also left the door open to the possibility he might impose a pipeline on Quebecers.
The moderator, Radio-Canada’s Patrice Roy, told Trudeau that while Scheer, the Conservative leader, had been clear that he was willing to impose a pipeline on Quebec, he had been less clear.
Trudeau said pipeline approval is part of a process that needs support from Indigenous communities and working with scientists to mitigate the environmental impacts. He said that his government would proceed with the Trans Mountain pipeline in a rigorous fashion.
That pipeline, purchased by the federal government after provincial squabbling, has been marred by legal challenges and still faces stiff community opposition.
“People know we can’t have more oil by rail. That is more dangerous and more polluting,” Trudeau said, telling the audience that every dollar from the Trans Mountain pipeline profits would fund green projects.
Good projects would be able to move forward, Trudeau said. But would you impose them, Roy asked. “It’s better than oil by rail,” Trudeau answered.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May struggled but made an emotional plea
Her French is the worst of the bunch, and though it seems to have improved, May did not have the same ease that she demonstrated in English Monday. She did tell Quebecers the Greens have the toughest environment plan, and that the federal government must stop supporting fracking and pipeline development to address urgent climate crisis.
“I am speaking from the bottom of my heart. Time is pressing,” she said.
None of the leaders on stage with her, she said, has a plan to avoid the worst. “Greta Thunberg is right. Our house is burning. How dare you?”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won’t impose a pipeline but won’t say he would demand Trudeau doesn’t either
During the debate, the NDP leader tried to play the charm card to Quebecers. “I think I can sum up the situation for the audience. Here, we have Mr. Pipeline [he pointed at Bernier], here is Mr. Pipeline again [he pointed at Scheer], and Mr. Trudeau, I think he is also Mr. Pipeline. I am Jagmeet Singh. I will never impose a pipeline on Quebec,” he said.
But when asked, twice, during his press conference, whether he would make his support of a Liberal minority government — he has already said he won’t prop up a Conservative government — contingent on ending the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, he evaded the question. He said he is opposed to the pipeline but that Canada now owns it and decisions about it have to be made reasonably and prudently.
Earlier Thursday, Singh outlined his conditions for NDP support. They did not include pipelines but focused on universal pharmacare, a national dental care plan, investments in housing, eliminating the interest on federal student loans, an end to fossil fuel subsidies and a plan to transition workers out of the oil patch, and a tax on the super rich.
Trudeau and Scheer both called on Quebecers to reject the Bloc Québécois and vote for a party that could form a government
Scheer said it was clear that the first priority of Yves-François Blanchet, the Bloc leader, is to “reanimate the sovereigntist movement.” He accused Blanchet of intending to work with the Parti Québécois the day after the federal election to push for a new referendum on separation.
Blanchet suggested that was ridiculous, saying the Bloc’s purpose was to ensure that Quebecers don’t elect a government in Ottawa that will try to undo what its provincial government is doing.
Scheer called Justin Trudeau a compulsive liar. Trudeau said Scheer will say anything
Scheer claimed, incorrectly, that the Liberals had not put forward a costed platform, while Trudeau suggested incorrectly that Scheer’s tax cut was aimed at multimillionaires.
After several heated exchanges in which both party leaders talked over each other, Trudeau and Scheer told reporters they each want to form a majority government.
With both parties neck-in-neck in the polls, around the 31 per cent mark, public opinion for now suggests Canadians don’t want to give either leader what he wants.