ANALYSIS - Canada Debates Show Little Impact On Election Race, Benefit Trudeau's Conservative Rival

TORONTO (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 12th September, 2021) Canada's two national debates, expected to be pivotal in the election campaign, had little impact on the race, much to the benefit of Justin Trudeau's rival, Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole, political analysts and commentators told Sputnik.

Earlier in the week, Canada's political elite descended upon the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec for the English- and French-language debates, which saw the leaders of the Liberal, Conservative, Bloc Quebecois, New Democrat, and Green parties engage in debate on the pandemic, foreign policy, and the environment as well as a host of issues.

While the debates were billed as the key moment of the campaign, they provided little fireworks keeping the pre-debate positions largely intact as the race enters the home stretch.

"I don't think the debates impacted the race too much. There was no outstanding knockout blow made by anybody or any momentum killing blunder. The candidates were cautious and did not release anything new or outstanding," Cory Morgan, a political commentator and a columnist with the Western Standard, told Sputnik.

The lack of a pivotal shift in the race largely works to the benefit of O'Toole, analysts and commentators said.

"Barely any impact and therefore to O'Toole's benefit," Dr. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, told Sputnik, when asked about the impact of the debates.

The Conservatives remain in the driver's seat heading into the final week of the campaign, according to Wiseman.

Morgan echoed Wiseman's sentiment, saying O'Toole remained composed when grilled by his adversaries and presented himself as a "strong" leader, who undecided voters could envision as the next prime minister.

Meanwhile, Trudeau, despite an adequate performance in the French-language debate on Wednesday, was on the receiving end of several notable shots during Thursday's English-language event.

The sitting Prime Minister was repeatedly grilled about his decision to call an election during the middle of the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the Afghan crisis. The election call decision has dogged him throughout the campaign, with analysts telling Sputnik that Trudeau hasn't been able to properly "articulate" his reasons. Most analysts say Trudeau called the election to reclaim the majority mandate lost in the 2019 Federal election.

Trudeau, during a press briefing on Friday, countered, saying the election call gives Canadians a say on the handling of the remainder of the pandemic and the trajectory of the recovery in the post-pandemic phase.

Trudeau, who has referred to himself as a "feminist" throughout his six years in office, also faced tough questions about his handling of sexual misconduct scandals and the treatment of women in his gender-neutral Liberal government. During his time as prime minister, Justin Trudeau has had to contend with a sexual harassment scandal in the military, two of his caucus members becoming subject to sexual misconduct allegations, and the resignation of three top-ranking female caucus members over the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul, the only female leader of a major Canadian political party, tore into Trudeau on Thursday, saying she doesn't believe the prime minister is a "real feminist."

Paul reminded the prime minister of the treatment former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, Health Minister Jane Philpott, and parliamentarian Celina Caesar-Chavannes received. Wilson-Raybould, was forced out of the Attorney General role by Trudeau after testifying that the prime minister's office pressured her to cut a deal with Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin to help the company avoid criminal prosecution on corruption charges. Philpott and Caesar-Chavannes were also pressured to resign after publicly backing Wilson-Raybould.

Morgan believes Trudeau's exchanges with Paul did not help his feminist brand.

"When Trudeau interrupted Annamie Paul and said, 'I won't let you lecture me on how to manage a caucus,' he looked bullying and dismissive of a woman. Trudeau's respect for strong women has been in question a number of times and that display did not help," Morgan said.

The political commentator surmised that Trudeau lost the most following Thursday's debate, looking weary and not "Prime Ministerial."

"Trudeau was very defensive and appeared to be on the verge of losing his temper a number of times... he simply did not come across as Prime Ministerial during the debates," Morgan said.

DEBATE FORMAT BECOMES THE STORY

While the debates lacked highlight-reel moments, the debate format and moderator Shachi Kurl became sources of controversy following Thursday's main event.

"The public was the loser," Clinton Desveaux, a political strategist and columnist, told Sputnik, branding the English-language debate a "disaster."

Thursday's English-language debate was moderated by Kurl, the president of not-for-profit polling firm Angus Reid Institute, as well as five top federal tv personalities. Throughout the night moderators interrupted the leaders, taking time away from participants and leaving little room for explosive exchanges.

Desveaux said seeing moderators questioning the "quality" of participants' responses was a first in his experience.

On the balance of the two nights Trudeau and O'Toole came out with a draw, Desveaux said, noting that the format of the English-language debate favored O'Toole by discouraging the participants from "ganging up" on each other.

Trudeau also took issue with the debate format, noting the "interjections" from moderators and saying that the format discouraged discussion.

Some viewers and analysts also questioned the exclusion of People's Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier, whose populist party currently commands between 5 and 11 percent of popular support and is sitting in fourth place in the election race. Both the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois, who trail the PPC in the polls, were represented in the debate.

David Freiheit, a political YouTuber who is running as a PPC candidate in the Montreal-area riding of Notre-Dame-de-GraceWestmount, told Sputnik that Bernier's exclusion is an "outrage."

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE DEBATE IGNITES POLITICAL FIRESTORM IN QUEBEC

Kurl's questions also ignited a political firestorm in French-speaking Quebec a development that few anticipated from an English-language debate.

In her first question to Yves-Francois Blanchet, Kurl asked the Bloc Quebecois chief why his party supports "discriminatory" Bill 21 and 96 legislations.

In June 2019, Quebec's National Assembly adopted the Laicity of the State Act, also known as Bill 21, which prohibits public sector workers from donning religious symbols. The bill has elicited widespread condemnation across the nation, and Manitoba's government has gone so far as to offer Quebecers affected by the law to relocate to the Prairie province.

Bill 96, which is no less controversial, amends the Canadian constitution defining Quebec as a nation with French as its official language and accordingly strengthens French-language requirements for businesses, governments, and schools.

Blanchet was clearly irked by the question, calling Bill 21 "legitimate" and representative of Quebec values. Meanwhile, Quebec Premier Francois Legault is demanding an apology for a question he characterized as an "attack" on Quebec.

The moderator's question was condemned by both frontrunners in Canada's election race.

Trudeau, who has opposed Bill 21, said that as a Quebecker he found the question "offensive" and was "taken aback" when it was asked, emphasizing that the province's residents are not "racists."

O'Toole, for his part, vowed that, if elected, his government would not back efforts to have the pieces of legislation overturned.

Political analysts in Quebec say Trudeau stands to lose the most from the episode. The Bloc Quebecois, who, according to Desveaux, were fighting for "survival" up to this point, have found a second wind with an issue that plays to their strengths. Trudeau's Liberals and the Bloc often fight for the same voters in Quebec, and it is widely believed that the Prime Minister's path to re-election runs through Quebec.

Additionally, the Conservatives received a major boost in Quebec, after the province's premier, a political heavyweight, called the Liberal and New Democrat plans for the province "dangerous," strongly suggesting his preference for the Conservative minority government in Ottawa.

The choice Canadians make will become clear in slightly more than a week the country will go to the polls on September 20.