Four moments that mattered during the federal leaders debate

OTTAWA – The Liberal Party’s record in government and what its rivals would do differently were analyzed from numerous angles in a raucous debate Thursday night.

Here are four key moments:

“I will not take lessons on caucus management.”

When Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party leader Annamie Paul debated sexual misconduct in the military, Paul was quick to attack Trudeau’s claim to be a feminist. If it were, he said, he would not have left out the women in his group and cabinet, a reference to two former cabinet ministers and a former MP.

Trudeau responded and told Paul that he would not take lessons from her, a reference to the infighting within the Green Party that nearly saw Paul deposed within months of becoming the leader.

Paul alluded to the need to crawl on broken glass to get to the debate stage Thursday night, and answered questions on the subject several times during the course of the night while tossing zinger after zinger at his rivals.

“If you want to bring the Michaels home, don’t just throw tomatoes across the Pacific.”

Foreign policy has played a limited role in this federal election campaign, with two exceptions: the collapse of efforts by Afghanistan and Canada to rescue thousands of people there, and the continued arrests of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has taken a hard line with China for years, calling for tough sanctions against Chinese officials in response to the case of the two Michaels, as they are known.

But beyond the penalties, he has advanced some ideas on how he would get the Michaels home. Now that he is very close to the Prime Minister’s Office, he has faced more questions about what exactly he would do.

Those returned tonight during the debate when O’Toole repeated his claim that Trudeau has not worked hard enough to secure his release.

Trudeau threw the pick at O’Toole while noting that he has all of Canada’s G7 allies by his side, and that other like-minded countries have raised the issue with Chinese officials.

“You’re talking about the future, let’s talk right now.”

Trudeau spent much of the night defending his record, and the debate became particularly heated on the topic of climate change, which emerged from several point questions.

An irritable exchange ensued between Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who are playing a political game for progressive voters.

Trudeau recently improved Canada’s emissions target to at least 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, but the Liberals have been criticized for the fact that they are nowhere near the path to achieving it.

It was at that point that Singh goaded Trudeau, saying his future plan is one thing, but that he’s not doing enough now.

“I will direct the watchdogs”

The Québec bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet played a saboteur role, acknowledging that he has no interest in ruling the country, complaining that he was not given enough time, and rejecting accusations of systemic racism in his province.

A key issue in the debate, however, was why Trudeau called the elections, given the pandemic and the fact that his minority government was working. O’Toole, Singh and Paul criticized him for this; Trudeau responded, among other things, by criticizing O’Toole for saying that he wants 90 percent of Canadians to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but cannot even say that 90 percent of his group has been vaccinated.

From Blanchet’s perspective, none of his rivals deserve to lead a majority government, and he offered to be the watchdog of another minority Parliament.


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