Last nights English Leaders Commission Debate was a night that so many people had circled on their calendar for a long time now. In a campaign that has seen static polls, lots of mud slinging and policy taking a back seat for the most part, many people were wondering if last nights debate could help to change that trajectory in any way. We’ll see over the next few days if that happens, but for sure last nights debate could have that effect:
One of my biggest take aways from last night is that after this election is over and the results are in, we’ll have a great case study before us about how much debates really matter any more in campaigns. New Democrat Jagmeet Singh had the best performance of the night and he rose above the crowd. He connected with people, he was genuine and he stuck to the issues. He continued to show the Jagmeet that many of us saw when we elected him leader back in 2017 and proved that many people underestimated him and wrote him off too soon.
Basically at this point in the campaign, Singh has had three strong debates, each one stronger than the last. So far that’s helped to seriously improve him personal approval numbers, but it hasn’t moved the party’s polling numbers to the same degree. It’s an open question if last nights performance will be enough to break the dam and move the party numbers in line with Singh’s own, but it can honestly be said that so far, he has done everything he can do make that happen. It just remains to be seen if it will.
When it comes to the big moments of the night, there are two that really jumped out at me for different reasons. The first came in the section on Bill 21 in Quebec, when Mr. Trudeau went after Mr. Singh. Mr. Trudeau tried to attack Mr. Singh for his response to this issue, saying that he didn’t have the courage to do more and insinuating that Mr. Singh wasn’t going to do enough to fight racism. That moment was one of the first moments in this campaign where we saw the different dynamic of having a leader of colour in the debate. In the past, if Mr. Trudeau had put that same question to someone like Tom Mulcair, it probably would have worked. But putting that same question to Mr. Singh came off as very tone deaf for obvious reasons. It came off as attacking a person of colour who faces racism on a regular basis for not doing enough about it, in the estimation of someone who never actually has to face it themselves. That alone would have been bad enough, but when you add to that equation the fact that Mr. Trudeau is just a couple weeks away from being caught for wearing brown and black face, an act that he himself admitted showed a serious blindness to his own privilege, it was that much worse. Simply put, Mr. Trudeau was in no position to attack Mr. Singh for how he would deal with something that Mr. Trudeau never would, and it was that privilege he quoted a couple of weeks ago that blinded him to that fact. It was very tone deaf and it was quite “un-woke” for the supposedly woke PM.
The other big moment that jumped out at me last night came in the section of the debate on Indigenous issues. It was one of the rare moments in a leaders debate where Indigenous rights and issues were given solid time and a chance to be discussed on the national stage like this, a precious 20 minutes that could have been a chance to give everyone a better view of where the parties stood on these issues. But instead of getting that time, Green Leader Elizabeth May took the chance to essentially change the topic of the section, focusing on Climate Change, despite the fact there would be an entire other 20 minute block on the environment. She did this to try to pivot to a better area of strength for her, but in doing so, it plowed under any chance for so many other issues that deserved to be raised to be discussed. That was very disrespectful in my view, and that was a prime example about how a leaders attempt to control the debate could blow up in their faces. The result was a truncated discussion on issues that deserved so much more time, something that was frustratingly common for us to see.
On the whole, Mr. Singh did come away from last night having not only done what he needed to do but having continued to build momentum towards the end of this race. He continues to impress, to show the kind of leader that he is and what he is capable of. For the Orange Team, it’s hard to say what more could have been asked for but it’s clear that in the toughest of circumstances, Mr. Singh has continued to deliver time after time. We’ll see if it starts to move peoples voting intentions but New Democrats can be comforted in knowing that Jagmeet Singh is holding up his end of the bargain and doing everything he can to bring them closer to government.