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Friday, September 24, 2021

Don Martin: Trudeau lost the debate, but the voters may not notice — or care

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OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau lost, but didn’t face the sort of devastating smackdown which would end his prime ministerial prospects.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole didn’t lose, but failed to unleash high-calibre firepower to generate enough buzz to enhance his prime ministerial prospects.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh doled out his predictable everything-for-everyone lines well, which likely solidified his support for third place.

And Green Party Leader Annamie Paul won the debate, but it just doesn’t matter because she probably won’t win her Toronto seat and may be lucky to see even Elizabeth May re-elected.  

As for the leader who whined, that would be Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet on being denied his share of talking time. Well, he has little to no electoral skin in this game so let’s just move on.

That would seem to be the line on winners and losers last night, for what it’s worth, as the one and only English language debate disappears into the archives.

It might not be worth much, to be honest.

If 2019 polling is any guide to this sleepy showdown, less than half of Canadians knew the debate was happening and less than half of those tuned in.

Of those who resisted the lure of the U.S. Open, the Yankee-sweeping Blue Jays and the NFL season opener to watch it, the only viewers who matter live in 50 ridings with enough swing potential to decide the next government.

Besides, pundits and public perceptions rarely dovetail on these winners and losers.

Still, if just for fun, let us continue with debate analysis.

For starters, spare some pity for debate moderator Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute, who generated more controversy than any leader for trying to herd five howling cats through an impossibly short time limit on answers which, incredibly, had her forcing some leaders into five-SECOND rebuttals on complicated disagreements.

Brutal stuff, but it wasn’t her format.

And show some empathy for the journalists, who are also getting hammered on social media, for asking good (albeit lengthy) questions and trying to pry actual answers from leaders programmed to avoid saying anything.

Making the leaders who want to run our country uncomfortable in their usual habit of fluffing off hard questions is a good thing.

But I digress. So back to the leaders.

The biggest problem confronting Trudeau last night remains his chronic failure to add any real justification for this election as an urgent referendum on long-range renewal for Canada.

I know, I know, I need a new line of complaint about this campaign.

But his answers tended to zero in on what his government has done in the past with little emphasis on the way forward, which makes a mockery of an election called just as the fourth COVID-19 wave went rogue while we were botching the evacuation of our allies from Afghanistan.

In lieu of a future vision, all we saw was an angry torrent of quips Trudeau seemed to be in a moistly-articulated rush to get out before he forgot his rehearsed lines.  

And then there was the moment he turned to Annamie Paul, after she noted he had forced out several top female ministers from his cabinet, to scold her with “I won’t take lessons on caucus management from you.” That had to generate an alarming groan from his war room.

Erin O’Toole, by contrast, did his bland best to remain calm and sound competent while trying to make his bizarre carbon savings accounts and termination of the Liberal $10-a-day daycare appear reasonable.

It wasn’t entirely successful, but he looked harmless enough, which was undoubtedly the prime directive from his handlers.  

And give Jagmeet Singh this much: He had the line of the night when talk turned to residential schools and Trudeau delivered his usual mushy lines.

“How do you trust a PM who takes knee one day and takes Indigenous children to court the next?” Singh fumed. Ouch.

Trudeau denied this was the case, but respected advocate Cindy Blackstock, who is leading the legal challenge to secure compensation for substandard social services on reserves, took to social media minutes later to say it was very much true.

To sum up, IF this is one of those rare times when a single debate decides the outcome of an election, then Trudeau has even greater cause to worry today then he did pre-debate.

Fortunately for him this lineup of leaders was more scripted than a North Korean newscast and trapped in a format that encouraged Canadians to change the channel.

Undoubtedly, most of them did just that.

That’s the bottom line.

 

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