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Local candidates weigh in on federal leaders' debate

The debate was the only English language federal leaders' debate before the Sept. 20 election.
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From left: Bloc Québécois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, Green Party leader Annamie Paul, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and Conservative leader Erin O'Toole debate on Sept. 9, 2021. SCREEN/Photo

Many have criticized the format and lack of depth of the two-hour English federal leaders' debate, televised across Canada on Sept. 9, including the local candidates in the St. Albert-Edmonton riding. 

NDP St. Albert-Edmonton candidate Kathleen Mpulubusi said she watched most of the debate and she wasn’t overly impressed with the format.

I didn't think it allowed any leader to shine … maybe that was the thinking, but I found they moved along, and they covered a lot of stuff, but I wasn't overly impressed with the format at all,” she said.

The debate covered a variety of issues, including Afghanistan, China relations, climate change, reconciliation and Indigenous issues, affordable living for seniors, and inflation.

Although the debate — the only English leaders' debate that will take place during the lead-up to the federal vote Sept. 20 — did not delve deeply into any subjects, Mpulubusi said the debate did serve voters in the sense that it gave viewers a chance to see how the leaders interact and what their focus was on.

“You could see some pretty clear distinctions between all the leaders,” she said.

Five leaders were invited: Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party leader Annamie Paul, and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. 

There wasn’t a clear moment where Singh stood out for Mpulubusi, but she liked that he was consistent in his message through all the topics covered and that message is a genuine concern about making lives better.

“To put the focus on programs and different things that will help people, and particularly coming out of the pandemic to really make their lives better ... the child care, the pharmacare, all of those programs … and the more comprehensive plan for dealing with climate change and targets.”

Liberal St. Albert-Edmonton candidate Greg Springate was also unimpressed with the format of the debate.

“It was kind of awkward. The moderator and the journalists seemed to be interrupting people. It didn't seem to be a real discussion. The best anybody seems to be able to do is to get out a series of one-liners,” said Springate.

Springate did not think the debate served voters well, many of whom headed to the advance polls over the weekend.

“If that's all you had seen on the campaign trail, would you really know and understand the differences between the parties?” he asked.

Springate thought Trudeau handled the topic of boil-water advisories and reconciliation well. During the debate, Trudeau said it was his government that started the process and his government that cleared 105 of the 109 boil-water advisories.

Climate change was another issue Springate thought Trudeau did well on.

“His government has put a national price on carbon, which is against what climate-change skeptics have been saying … the Liberal climate plan has been rated in 'A' by the experts, but the NDP's has been rated an 'F.'”

“Being a professor, I like that because I do things by grades,” he said

Conservative incumbent Michael Cooper said he did not have a chance to watch the full English leaders’ debate. He did, however, catch snippets and saw some of the coverage afterward.

From what he saw, Cooper said he thought O’Toole stood out as a prime minister in waiting.

“He laid out the Conservative vision for Canada, with our recovery plan. He demonstrated that he is a person of substance, and he put forward ideas, in contrast to Justin Trudeau,” said Cooper.

Cooper said the big issue for Canadians is jobs and the economy.

"Erin O'Toole has laid out a comprehensive jobs plan to recover the million jobs lost during COVID," he said.

Life is getting more expensive under the Liberals because of out-of-control spending that has resulted in inflation, Cooper said.

“Erin O'Toole has a plan to get spending under control, to get inflation under control, and to see an eventual return to a balanced budget,” he said.

People’s Party of Canada candidate Brigitte Cecelia was not available for comment. Maxime Bernier, leader of the PPC, was not invited to the debate as he did not meet the requirements.

Dr. Allan Tupper, professor and former head of the political science department at the University of British Columbia, said the process of the current debates are highly structured, very busy in the sense they've got all different journalists and questions from Canadians, there are strict time limits, and five candidates.

“Unlike the previous [debates], and this is not judgmental, this is just an analytical comment, this structure and the process of that debate really shaped the outcomes in a lot of ways,” he said.

They do that because, with all the busy stuff going on, there isn’t the capacity for decisive intervention, he explained.

“Everybody has a good moment, everybody's had some bad moments, that's how they all work. And that's really just a product of the format,” he said.

The big analytical question, according to Tupper, is what kind of difference did the debate make?

“I mean did Trudeau show enough as prime minister to stabilize the Liberal vote, and possibly close off the option of people voting Conservative?

“And conversely, for withdrawal on the Conservative side, I mean, how many people feel free to kick a Conservative tire now and have a go at a vote? Or how many people were turned off? Or how many people still don't know?” he said.