2019 Canadian Federal Election English Debate

This is going to be a summary of my thoughts about the English debate held on Tuesday October 8, 2019.

I will do my best to be unbiased except in the final section which will give my own opinions on the policy discussed.

Format

Firstly, a description of the format. The debate was split into 5 blocks: affordability and economic insecurity; environment and energy; indigenous issues; national and global leadership; and polarization, human rights and immigration. Each block began with a question from an audience member for all leaders. Then a single question would be asked for one leadership candidate. This leader would then be debated in turn by each of the other leaders on this question in a short 1 minute one-on-one. Then that leader would be open to ask any question to another leader to start a 4 minute open debate.

This was easily the worst debate format I have ever witnessed at any political level in any nation. The audience questions in this case were video called in, not pre-recorded, breaking any flow for the event. The questions were badly formulated, and the audience questions especially were full of stutters and extremely long winded. Over half the questions were related to the environment which left little or no time for other topics. Worst of all, the moderation was so weak that the open debate often devolved into everyone talking over each other. The only competent moderator there was Rosemary Barton, probably the most impressive person on the stage that night.

Individual performances and polling predictions

The leaders at this event:

  • Justin Trudeau – Liberal Party
  • Andrew Scheer – Conservative Party
  • Jagmeet Singh – New Democratic Party
  • Elizabeth May – Green Party
  • Maxime Bernier – People’s Party
  • Yves-Francois Blanchet – Bloc Quebecois

Trudeau performed well. He was obviously very prepared and rehearsed with few of his typical verbal affectations. He skillfully dodged questions about the scandals that have plagued him such as SNC Lavalin and a few others which were mentioned. He did well in showcasing some of the achievements of his administration too.

The biggest winners from this event will be Singh and Scheer. Both of these leaders were very well spoken, calm and on point. I expect a noticeable bump in the polling for these parties at the expense of the liberals.

May started off strong but fell off hard after the first few rounds. She came off as rambling and without a coherent message. Given the similarity of her party to the NDP I expect the NDP to take some points from the Green Party.

Bernier performed the worst on stage, coming off as aggressive. His command of English is adequate but his strong accent may put off some voters. However, given the uniqueness of his message, the PPC will benefit simply for having been represented.

Blanchet failed to really make Bill 21 a federal issue. The main point English speaking Quebecers will see is whether a pipeline will be built in Quebec. On this I do not believe he made a sufficiently strong case against the NDP or Green Party.

Key moments (in no particular order)

Everyone takes turns calling out Trudeau for the carbon tax. Scheer and Bernier are upset that the carbon tax has exemptions for high polluting businesses. May is upset that it’s not enough to avert a crisis. Singh is both of these.

May argues that Alberta should become a recipient for equalization payments because they will suffer most from shutting down fossil fuel industries. Blanchet is outraged that this would make Quebec a net payer.

Bernier outright tells Blanchet that he would use federal jurisdiction to build a pipeline through Quebec. The other leaders are afraid to say this outright but Bernier is also Quebecois and can’t be accused of oppressing the province.

Blanchet argues with every other leader about Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21. Despite firmly defending Quebec’s provincial jurisdiction he mysteriously demands every other leader overstep federal jurisdiction to stop the court case against the bill. Trudeau is the only leader to suggest he might attempt to block the bill.

Scheer gets to ask a question to any leader. He turns to Trudeau and starts a 2 minute argument while the other leaders just watch. Singh finally interrupts saying “These two are arguing about who’s going to be worse. The NDP exists by the way.”

Minor but notable moments

May wants to reorganize the WTO into a “Trade and Climate” organization.

The first words Bernier says are to the effect of: “Everyone else here is a globalist. The UN is corrupt.”

Singh was mistakenly called Scheer 3 times and says, “I wore this bright turban for a reason.”

Scheer calls Bernier out for having been a separatist and then being responsible for federal subsidies.

Policy and my opinions

Climate

Trudeau re-emphasizes the feasibility and effectiveness of his climate plan. Scheer would cancel the carbon tax and focus on exporting green tech. May would shut down the fossil fuel industry. Bernier does not believe that climate change is man made.

My opinion: The carbon tax should be kept but not be offset by arbitrary tax credits as it is currently. Instead the sales tax should be reduced, perhaps even abolished. Given the time spent about climate (at least 1/3), nothing was said about recycling, agricultural, mining and industrial runoff, national parks, or invasive species. This is, in my opinion, due to the poor format and weak moderation.

Foreign

Scheer wants to cut foreign aid by 25% to help balance the budget. Bernier wants to cut it by an unspecified amount. May wants to increase foreign aid to address greenhouse gas emissions in poor countries.

My opinion: Foreign policy is such a key function of the federal government. The fact that it was barely discussed is an embarassment. We probably ought to cut foreign aid though.

Economy

Trudeau has a carbon tax and a childcare tax credit. Scheer has a “universal” tax cut of about a thousand dollars and would reinstate the tax credits for public transit and children’s sports. Trudeau added a fifth tax bracket and Singh would raise upper bracket taxes. Bernier would reduce the number of brackets to two. Singh and May both plan to implement a national pharma care plan. Bernier wants to end supply management. Scheer plans to balance the budget in 5 years. Bernier plans to balance the budget in 2 years. Blanchet wants more money for Quebec.

My opinion: It’s hard to take anyone’s plan too seriously here. Singh and May would both bankrupt the nation. Trudeau doesn’t seem to care about the budget at all. Bernier didn’t propose any cost cutting measures other than foreign aid cuts. Scheer doesn’t even have a platform.

Indigenous

May wants Canada to ratify the UN declaration on indigenous rights and follow the recommendations of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report. Singh will prioritize getting clean water to reservations. Trudeau counters that he has successfully ended 70 boil water advisories on reservations. Both Trudeau and Scheer emphasize collaborating with native tribes on building pipelines. Bernier would end the reservation system and implement private property for natives.

My opinion: Ending the reservation system is the correct move here. The hereditary and absolute power of the chiefs over the collective property of a reserve is tyrannical and inhumane. It’s worth thinking of Quebecers as an indigenous group given how long they have lived there. Given the voice and influence Quebec has, it is worth investigating the creation of native provinces. Perhaps one for the Ojibwe tribes in Northern Ontario and Manitoba and another for the Cree tribes in the Hudson Basin.

Final thoughts

It’s hard to summarize such a long debate into anything coherent so instead I’m going to label the parties with the ideological label which I think best suits them.

  • Liberal Party – Democratic Socialism
  • Conservative Party – Neo-liberalism
  • New Democratic Party – Progressive Socialism
  • Green Green – Eco-socialism
  • People’s Party – Classic Liberalism
  • Bloc Quebecois – Nationalist Socialism

Thanks for reading!