Last night marked the fourth and final debate of the 43rd General Election, with the French Leaders Commission Debate in Gatineau. it was the last chance to see all the six leaders together, to hear about their views and probably most importantly, for them to leave a lasting impression on the electorate. Moderator Patrice Roy of Radio-Canada oversaw a lively debate which flowed a lot better than the English one on Monday, something that I hope the Leaders Debate Commission considers for the next series of debates in the next election.
But despite a better format, this debate didn’t seem to do much that should move the needle for anyone. While there were some big moments, this debate lacked any knock out punches or clear winners to speak of. So if your glass is half-full, no one fell on their faces last night but if your glass is half-empty, no one managed to run away from the pack on the night.
Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau were the target for most of the attacks on the night, which with the current state of affairs made a lot of sense. With the Bloc rising in Quebec and the Liberals their main competition there at this point, it stood to reason that the others would be aiming their comments in their direction. Both took hard shots on a few different issues but mostly coming away in the same condition that they entered.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh gave a performance similar to the one he gave during the TVA debate last week. He stuck to his points and scored a few memorable lines against Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Blanchet while working in his solid French. After three increasingly strong debate performances, last nights performance gave him what he needed. He did nothing last night to kneecap his own momentum and in Quebec, he leaned hard on his progressive values. To have a leader have four solid debates with no significant mess ups is something you rarely see in our politics, so Mr. Singh has managed to do something that not many leaders in our history have. The last week of this campaign will show us if those performances and his rising polls numbers will results in more seats for the Orange team.
People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier had his best debate so far, which really wasn’t hard to do given that the only other debate that he was in was an unmitigated disaster. Thursday night he struck out in his own direction as he worked in his first language. He looked more confident and calmer, which while better, won’t undo the damage he did to himself on Monday night.
Both Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Green leader Elizabeth May struggled to keep up to the other four years as they worked in their weaker language. They both had moments that will make them feel alright about the evening, but both also had moments where you could tell they were not confident while operating in French. Scheer repeated the same mistake he committed on Monday, where he went after Mr. Trudeau with attacks that didn’t feel befitting of someone who wants to be Prime Minister and were frankly just very angry. And the thing about seeing Mr. Scheer angry in this campaign is that it comes off as a kind of anger that comes off as kind of unsettling. For some reason it really doesn’t resonate and is something that I think the Blue team will look back on and see as a negative factor for them in the end.
While no leader had a terrible evening, none of them had a great one either. While the previous debates might have started to change the polls, Thursday’s performance isn’t likely to do the same. This debate likely didn’t hurt any of the leaders, but it didn’t help them much either. At this point in the race, I suspect that all of the leaders left the stage feeling alright about their performances and where it left them for the final 10 days of this campaign.