, 09.03.2021 12:19 PM

My latest: who won the debate?

Erin O’Toole won by not losing.

Justin Trudeau won by sounding authentic, for once.

Yves-Francois Blanchet won by being himself.

Jagmeet Singh lost — by looking lost.

That’s this writer’s assessment of the first federal leaders debate, held Thursday night in Montreal. It was entirely in French, and fast-paced. But it made for compelling viewing.

The debate was organized by Quebec’s TVA network, and the moderation — by veteran broadcaster Pierre Bruneau — was simply excellent. Unlike what we are all likely to see in the English-language debate, the TVA show was well-done: Lots of important subjects covered, and very little over-talk.

The leaders, meanwhile, mostly performed well. When he speaks in English, Liberal Leader Trudeau is too often affected and phony. But in the French debate, Trudeau didn’t look or sound like he was acting. On subjects like vaccines and guns, he was passionate.

The Bloc’s Blanchet is an award-winning figure in Quebec’s entertainment and communications industry, and it showed. He has a broadcaster’s voice, and a performer’s style, and he clearly knows how to use the camera to his advantage.

The New Democrats’ Singh desperately needs Quebec voters to embrace the NDP, as they did overwhelmingly a decade ago under Jack Layton. But, based on Singh’s first 2021 debate performance, that’s unlikely to happen. The Dipper boss was low-energy for much of the debate, and really didn’t ever score any points.

O’Toole, however, did — and not just by showing up. The Tory leader’s French was much better than many Quebec commentators expected. And he clearly surprised the other political leaders, too.

The expectations for O’Toole were as low as they can get — just as they were before this unnecessary, unwanted election kicked off. But he didn’t merely play defence in the debate. O’Toole was aggressive, at times, going after Trudeau on the appalling Liberal record on sexual harassment and treatment of women.

Trudeau was left blinking and sputtering throughout much of what the moderator Bruneau noted was the “MeToo” segment of the debate — because O’Toole put Trudeau on the ropes, and kept him there.

All of the opposition leaders hammered Trudeau on the election call itself, too. As in the rest of Canada, Quebec voters are mystified — and angry — that Trudeau called an election during a fourth wave in the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

As has been the case so far in the 36-day election, Trudeau was simply unable to come up with a compelling narrative for triggering an election two years earlier than he needed to.

But the debate wasn’t all bad for the Liberal leader. Watching him, no one should be surprised to see Trudeau continuing to hammer away at the vaccination issue in the remainder of the campaign: On Thursday night, he was effective on it.

Trudeau clearly feels O’Toole — who has an undisclosed number of unvaccinated Tory candidates, and has been blasé about it — is vulnerable on vaccines. If Trudeau goes neg in the remaining days, it’ll likely be on the hot topic that is vaccines.

For those who are dismissive about the French-language debates, keep this in mind: In 2019, Blanchet became far more popular after turning in strong French-language performances. And the resulting Bloc surge helped to rob Trudeau of his majority government.

Remember this, too: O’Toole needed to show that he could be prime minister for all of Canada, not just Western Canada.

Based on his first debate performance as Conservative leader, he did that and then some.

And that’s why he, more than Messrs. Trudeau or Singh, was the winner.

— Warren Kinsella has provided TV debate coaching to Canadian political party leaders since 1989


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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    The election narrative is not Trudeau’s friend: why an election now only confirms previous negative impressions that Trudeau thoroughly cemented thanks to his disgraceful conduct on SNC and his good friends at WE. It’s the last flow of rain drops that insure overflow of the vase. They are done as dinner and then some.

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    Sean says:

    The French debates matter than most people assume. If there is major movement among the top three parties, Ontario often seems to follow Quebec’s lead. At least that’s my recollection of the past 5 or so Federal Elections. That’s when Harper started to move ahead of Martin… Layton ahead of Ignatieff… Justin ahead of Mulcair.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      And of course, the classic: Mulroney ahead of Turner.

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      Walter says:

      The key for the French debate is that the majority of the country cannot even watch a single video clip.
      Thus, the public are purely reliant on the honesty and integrity of the media to echo who actually won.

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    Peter Williams says:

    A federal vaccine passport could be ready next year (Justin Trudeau).

    Me thinks Team Trudeau is trying to find a way for good Liberals to profit from developing and issuing such a vaccine passport. Or maybe he’ll ask WE to run it!

    How many billions will it cost?

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      Sean says:

      Let me translate how Justin promises work:

      Will happen = might be possible
      Must happen = discus at a committee
      Could happen = never happen
      Can’t happen / opposed = after it happens, pretend that he’s against it or that it’s Stephen Harper’s fault
      Moral obligation = what Katie and Gerald’s polling data says this week.

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    Phil in London says:

    Warren made a couple of great points last night on twitter that I feel need to be built upon.

    1) he called it a great debate (not sure if am quoting verbatim)
    2) he said the english debate will not be so well moderated
    3) he made a point about how great it was to see a number of leaders being able to speak in multiple languages.

    I am not sure I am going to score any points here but I think there is some important reasoning to all these comments. Most importantly, the comment about being about being able to speak (well) in multiple languages.

    However, I am not one that feels that a leader must be able to speak both languages to lead the country. I am only considered bilingual if “foul” is considered a language but I would have no difficulty in 2021 accepting that the prime minister of my nation of residence could not speak English. I mean that enough commentators are out there that can relate accurately and there are interpretive services around for both the speaker and the listener to conversations.

    To be a truly bilingual country I believe we all must accept the other language and if we cannot speak it that is not on the speaker to improve. It has to cut both ways. My choice not to learn French means I rely on commentary like Warren’s on a debate that matters to me.

    If the leader of any party cannot speak French well, there is a very simple solution, appoint a French speaking lieutenant that can speak to the audience on your behalf. If you don’t have such a person in your party capable of both leadership and debate skills in both official languages you should not be on that national stage. Stephan Dion might have benefited with this in English Canada as well.

    If you want to call the French language debate a national debate that is fair but if it is a national debate only national parties can participate.

    If you want to call it a French language debate for the nation of Quebec within Canada than I have no problem with a Bloc opponent participating.

    You just can’t have both.

    I think another important recognition is that debates that don’t work and are not effective are also not useful. It is time we stop calling the Green party a major party until they earn a spot on that stage. Major to me means they command a significant portion of the vote, or in the unique case of the Bloc Quebecois they command a significant space in the province they run candidates.

    That means Green leader Paul and PPC leader Bernier have no place in a main party debate, but is also means the Bloc has no place at all in the English Language national debates. We used to have debates among the minor parties this is where these two belong, you can have a national stage and a few more opponents let’s quit pretending they are part of the national major party debate.

    Now, I understand that people in Quebec can speak English and it may even be their mother tongue and those same people can and might vote Bloc but I don’t think the Bloc needs the English language debate to woo that vote.

    I also get that some Francophones in the Maritimes and the Eastern parts of Ontario and even some enclaves elsewhere may speak French as first language but those are minimal that cannot absorb a debate in English. They are not getting the full benefit of a Quebec dominated French debate any more than I am getting the benefit of an English language that is not national in scope.

    Once again if it is important to address a group like Maritimers in French than have a Martime French debate and an English one for that matter, but let’s not have the whole nation focused on a French debate that is only for Quebeckers as the one that permits the Bloc to be there.

    With three main parties the English language debates would improve even if the format and the moderators did not. At the very least we would be able to see that the party of the groper (before he lead) and the NDP are two very different parties if they had to square off more directly.

    My goal is not to racialize the process, actually it is to remove some of that. Warren made a point that it is too bad so many in Quebec cannot listen to Jagmeet Singh because they are so focused on what is on his head. We are justifying a debate for arguably a province and we are not willing to recognize that a Quebec lieutenant could do the speaking well.

    I am not trying to silence anyone. As an Ontarian I don’t think of the provincial interests in a federal election. I want to hear an intelligent debate amongst major contenders for my vote. If I can’t choose between Jagmeet, Erin or the leader I will not refer to with a capitalized name, then it is on me look elsewhere.

    90% of Ontarians will vote for one of these three so we deserve to have a focused debate.

    I would go so far to say Gilles Duceppe was the best opponent and the most entertaining in most English Language debates that he partook. I will never forget his belittling of Jack Layton as suggesting he too would not be prime minister. I loved his digs at the liberal leaders. I of course hated his ability to demonize Harper but the point is he should not have been given a national audience to make a case against any of these from the perspective of me listening as a non-Quebecker.

    But, for a party devoted to Quebec interests exclusively he nor any Bloc leader should be given the platform to hijack a debate for the interest of the west, and to a large part Ontario.

    If you want meaningful debate for most, you have to accept that some cannot participate.

    If you want meaningful debate you also have to limit the noise by distractions with no chance to govern or at the very least form a significant block of votes in a minority parliament.

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      Joe Calgary says:

      Meh…As an Albertan Blanchet can go fuck himself and if Quebec wants to be that independent then they can fuck off too and we’ll keep the literally billions we spend wiping their arrogant French asses. It’s like having a kid who just refuses to get a job and get the hell out of the house. They lost the war… Get over it.

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        As you know only too well, Alberta is so hurting and is now a shade of its former self. Unfortunately. So soon enough it will be entitled to equalization payments and it will mostly be up to Quebec and Ontario to foot that bill. That’s why Kenney needs to focus on the long game and be very careful before any changes are made to the equalization formula. Once a province is on the receiving end, they are entitled at least to as much $ as they previously paid out during the golden days of oil and gas. That’s why this is a federation, for now.

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    Pedant says:

    Thomas Mulcair’s view. He generally concurs with Warren’s assessment.


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    Pedant says:

    “But the debate wasn’t all bad for the Liberal leader. Watching him, no one should be surprised to see Trudeau continuing to hammer away at the vaccination issue in the remainder of the campaign: On Thursday night, he was effective on it.”


    But for voters under 50, and especially for voters under 35, vaccinations and vaccine mandates are approximately #87 on their list of priorities. Trudeau might well pull off a comeback, but it won’t be because of that issue.

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      Sean says:

      …and I really can’t for the life of me understand how he could champion that issue at this point. The guy breaks rules at his own rallies. His own candidates aren’t vaccinated. He called the election in the middle of a pandemic – that is getting WORSE. The gong show procurement mess. How the hell can O’Toole and Singh allow him to seize that ground? Ridiculous. If Justin somehow finds a way to win, that will be the biggest strategic mistake in the campaign IMO.

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        Pedant says:

        Let him seize that issue, who cares? I think most people understand it’s just rhetoric and anyway almost nobody is voting based on it.

        Despite the MSM’s obsession with Covid and vaccine mandates, the big issue is COST OF LIVING. That’s what people actually care about : the cost of housing, food, and post-secondary education, combined with notoriously stagnant wages. The Liberals have a dreadful record there, have nothing substantive to offer, and nobody believes anything they say on the matter anyway.

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          Sean says:

          Pedant – have to disagree here… UD / Liberal leaning folks I talk too seem to actually believe (incorrectly) that Justin is on the side of mandatory vaccines and O’Toole is against vaccines. The perception is developing that Justin can move Canada through this mess and O’Toole is behind the protests. It is fertile battlefield ground and the Tories can’t allow the Liberals to settle on it.

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    Vancouverois says:

    If Trudeau tries to make the rest of the campaign about vaccines, that may well rebound on him.

    When he tried last night, O’Toole did point out that the Liberal candidates aren’t all vaccinated either. But it was Blanchet who really made him look like a fool by pointing out how the Liberals have already had several campaign events where they have crowded together for selfies, and generally ignored the standard guidelines. His usual hypocrisy…

    Speaking of which, I’m glad to see that people keep raising the question of Raj Saini and other examples of the Liberals’ hypocrisy. I don’t think it’s stuck quite yet, but I do believe people are starting to notice.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      They can feel the pull of divine providence but not exactly in the direction that Himself was expecting or planning his snow job campaign for. Some Canadians are admittedly asleep or sleep-walking but no one is THAT comatose. Himself has royally played himself for a change instead of his usual practice of trying to play Canadians at every possible opportunity. The delicious irony of it all. LOL.

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      Sean says:

      …agreeing w. Vancouverois. See my comment above w. Pedant. At some point, one of these leaders is going to establish a definitive / consistent battlefield position on the vaccine issue and it would be disgraceful if it were Justin.

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    Gilbert says:

    The Canadians who don’t want experimental vaccines are not going to vote for JT. On abortion, it’s my body, my choice but on vaccination that doesn’t apply. What about those with medical exemptions? Surely we don’t need to exclude them.

    Erin O’Toole’s French has really improved. He’s really worked on it. If all goes well, he could gain some seats in Quebec.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      Finally a politician who actually listened to the Ron Quebec playbook. O’Toole could quite conceivably be the Liberal black swan in Quebec and take more seats in this province that even conventional wisdom dared contemplate. I expect that to be the story of the night.

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        Ronald O'Dowd says:

        I’ll shut up for a while after this comment: when you think about it, the nationalist crowd should normally be easy pickings for the Bloc in times where the Liberal-inclined support has demonstrably softened. But in fact, the BQ is seemingly treading water and will be lucky to gain a few seats, which they probably won’t. This leaves a huge opening for Erin what with his constant repetition of respecting provincial jurisdiction, applying Bill 101 to federally-regulated workers in Quebec and other assorted goodies that have a widely popular nationalist bent in this province. It’s like turning to Jack en masse with not only a populist bent but also an autonomist one, dovetailing somewhat what the premier has carved out as his territory. Liberals absolutely cringe when they see the extension of the Mulroney strategy at work — but hey, it inevitably pays dividends in Quebec. The question is, how big will this black swan be and to whose detriment: maybe to the detriment of both the Liberals AND the Bloc. Maybe, just maybe.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Mainstreet: Conservatives +2

    Nanos: Conservatives +3

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    The next French debate is on Wednesday and the only English debate is on Thursday. Curious, two French-language debates and only one in English.

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