François Legault managed to keep his cool, Dominique Anglade may have made inroads in the business of making himself known among Quebecers, and Éric Duhaime came under heavy criticism for tapping into anger over COVID-19 health measures.
In a heated and fast-paced debate Thursday, one that was marred at least initially by everyone speaking at once, Quebec’s top five political leaders traded criticism for just over two hours at what is now the midpoint of the choice.
None of the five leaders dropped the ball in such a way that their campaigns were in trouble, but it’s not clear if anyone got a real boost from the exercise, which was sponsored by TVA.
That’s a particular problem because the four opposition parties — Liberals, Québec Solidaire, Conservative Party and Parti Québécois — have yet to find the right formula to increase opposition to the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec, which still has a big lead in the elections. surveys.
As many predicted, Legault, the incumbent prime minister and leader of the CAQ, was on the defensive, on his left and right flank, much of the night, but that was to be expected given his four years in office, including the controversial time. in the management of COVID-19. 19 pandemic. Arriving at the debate, he admitted to reporters that he was stressed.
But as the leaders tried to push his buttons, he kept his temper in check and seemed to be at his best speaking ill of Duhaime, who has bristled at the health measures.
“I did not enter politics to close shops and impose masks,” Legault said in criticizing Duhaime, leader of the Quebec Conservative Party. “I did this to save lives. You made a hole in the rowboat. It was irresponsible.”
Legault was asked after the debate why he wasn’t more combative. Some analysts said his performance was adequate but not impressive.
“With five people, this debate was not an easy affair,” Legault told reporters later.
On the other hand, he made some strange comments. In a brief discussion on the topic of systemic racism, which Legault does not acknowledge, he insisted that the problem at the Joliette hospital had been resolved.
And in an exchange with Liberal leader Anglade, Legault said his party “has lost its monopoly on opposing sovereignty,” and that explains its lackluster position with Quebecers.
“The Liberal Party no longer has a reason to exist,” Legault said later in response to a question from the Montreal Gazette.
He also seemed to enjoy focusing on Québec Solidaire co-spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who at times seemed taken aback by Legault’s attacks, particularly against the QS plan to take on the ultra-rich and slap new tariffs on gasoline-burning SUVs. .
However, Nadeau-Dubois quickly got on his feet and took over Duhaime’s plan to bring back oil development in Quebec. His best line was to say that maybe Duhaime would feel more comfortable running for governor of Texas.
“I will never insult you and suggest you race in Cuba,” Duhaime responded.
However, Duhaime gave no quarter and attacked Legault for the sanitary measures and Anglade for the way his party handled Bill 96 that reforms the Charter of the French Language.
He made the unusual move of switching to English, in the midst of an all-French debate.
“You betrayed the English-Quebecans on that bill,” Duhaime shot back at Anglade, who later dismissed the comment saying Duhaime changes his mind on Bill 96 every hour.
Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the leader of the Parti Québécois, was remarkably cool and calm in his first major debate and criticized Legault for not going above and beyond to protect the French. He called House Bill 96 “a half measure.”
“You didn’t protect French,” St-Pierre Plamondon said at one point.
It was the first time in Quebec history that five candidates had faced each other in a debate. Sometimes the turning points in the campaign, but not always, for some Quebecers it is the first time they have seen a leader up close and under pressure.
With 34 percent of Quebecers saying they might change their vote as a result of what they saw in the debate, that put a lot on the line because there is less time left to make a good impression on the undecided.
Different people get different things out of discussions. Only in later polls do you really get a sense of whether it helped or hindered a candidate.
While a Léger poll on Thursday shows the CAQ clinging to its lead and appear poised to win the election, several regional contests have heated up, including the one in Montreal. With the poll showing the CAQ going nowhere in Montreal, a fierce battle is raging between the Liberals and QS.
On the other hand, the Liberals are in trouble in the Laval region, where they currently control five of the six regions.
Conservatives are also in a good position in the Quebec City region, particularly in the Beauce and Chaudière-Appalaches regions.
It was the first of two televised leaders’ debates. The next one, sponsored by Radio-Canada, is next Thursday. There were plans for a debate in English, one was held in 2018, but it was scrapped after two of the parties, the CAQ and the PQ, refused to participate.
Little talk about the poor, housing shortage on campaign trail, anti-poverty group complains
MP Alain Rayes says he’ll let Canadians be the judge of Conservatives’ ‘bullying’ apology