With the writ on the 43rd General Election expecting to be dropped on the weekend, we are more or less into the campaign now. And as I wrote about last week, once the campaigns starts we start to see all kinds of debates and events involving party leaders and candidates, speaking to the issues that they are asked about. It’s always interesting to see which groups decide to put on such events, which leaders accept the invites to take part and probably most importantly, what they have to say when there.
It was with that in mind that I noticed a few videos floating around social media over the past few days from the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). They have been holding town hall events with party leaders and this week they started with two leaders; New Democrat Jagmeet Singh and Green Elizabeth May. Much has been made about the ongoing battle between these two parties, with some suggesting that the Greens are in a position to overtake the NDP. And that discussion has tended to hone in on the parties two leaders, their abilities or their perceived lack there of.
That debate hasn’t been kind to Jagmeet Singh so far and Elizabeth May has looked better compared to the low bar set by the entire field. But as the campaign starts, the question has been if this would remain the case or would things change. Will Singh rise to the occasion or fall part? Will May stumble or soar? The answers to these questions will matter when people make their decisions.
It was with that in the back of my mind that I saw these videos from those town halls that have come out. Let’s look at how both leaders responded to their positions on Quebec’s Bill 21. First, here was Jagmeet Singh:
Any reply that you give that brings such a hearty applause is a good one, but his answer really struck at the heart of peoples concerns about that piece of legislation. The fact that Singh is in this campaign, asking for Quebeckers to support his party and make him Prime Minister, is an act of defiance onto itself. He could easily run and hide from that issue, or just walk away and give up when faced with these odds. But instead of doing that, he is facing it head on and just being him, doing so with compassion and humanity. Those are the kinds of answers that can leave a good impression in everyone minds.
A couple of days later Elizabeth May took her turn with her own town hall. How did that go? Well see for yourself:
I have to admit that I was taken aback by Ms. May’s approach and comments here, but not shocked. I was taken aback because I spent my last couple of years on Parliament Hill working in an office across the hall from Ms. May and her staff. When we spoke, she was always polite, nice, happy and her staff that I met are very nice people too. But this response didn’t shock me because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of reply from May. When faced with valid and pointed criticism on Green policy and positions from Indigenous writer Robert Jago, her party reacted in a similar way. Her party wrote a massive rebuttal piece, refusing to take any of the feedback that Jago offered. Further to that, May herself doubled down on this when she did an interview with the Washington Post and tried to blow off Jago himself as biases against the Greens. She tried to treat him like some everyday partisan hack, which if you know his work, he is far from.
And this time when faced with difficult and direct questions about her and her parties’ positions on Bill 21, she did the same thing. She got defensive with the moderator and instead of taking what he was having to say to heart, she fought it. She didn’t address the very valid concerns being raised with her and basically tried to say that as leader of her party, she had no way to put her candidates or MPs in line. That may be the way the Greens like to operate, but in situations like these, you see the huge flaw with that approach. It made May look like she was trying to wash her hands of this situation, that she somehow was powerless to lead her own party in a direction that responds to this issue. It wasn’t a good look, but the more that Ms. May is seen in these venues, the more and more we see performances like these.
These two town halls are just one in a series of events to come in this campaign but the images and sounds from them do show two very different things. In Singh, we saw someone who looked confident, comfortable and ready to answer while with May, we saw someone who was defensive, evasive and unwilling to accept the premise of the question she was asked, let alone give a direct answer to them. That makes for quite a contrast and makes you wonder what you might see on Thursday night during the first leaders’ debate. We’ll see if that contrast continues going forward but it’s an interesting development to see for sure.