On the campaign trail – Day 24
By Scott Munnoch, Temple Scott Associates
As the federal election campaign enters the final two weeks, the only two national debates are on the horizon. And with an election where the outcome is currently a statistical tie, the debates will matter.
The French language debate will be on Wednesday September 8th while the English language debate will be on Thursday September 9th.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called the September 20 Federal Election with the goal of achieving a majority government. The governing party gambled that their liberal coattails were enough to propel them into a stronger position. But as we’ve seen right from the first day on August 15th, elections matter. Polls have shown a back-and-forth race between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Today the Liberals have gone back in the lead by 2.1% (according to Nanos overnight polling), but still a statistical tie. Last week the Conservatives had a 5-point lead.
And while Trudeau has maintained his lead when voters are asked who would make the best Prime Minister, O’Toole has gained some recognition and closed the gap considerably.
So, debates matter too.
Last week’s French debate, largely focused on a single province’s issues and did not generate any real controversy. Trudeau was very comfortable in this arena while O’Toole showed a strong grasp for the French language, basically eliminating his linguistic skills as an issue.
This week there will be national audiences, especially on Thursday night in the English debate.
Leader performance in these debates can be pivotal. You can expect to see O’Toole facing a determined and fully focused Liberal Leader who knows his government’s survival requires him to break through O’Toole’s calm demeanour and create doubt about his policies, intentions and ability to govern. Trudeau can be expected to be on the attack right from the start, looking determined by trying to put O’Toole back on his heels. Look for the gun control issue to be raised early and often.
Trudeau, who tends to do well in these formats, must also stop the bleeding to the NDP. He will make it clear that the only party for progressives in 2021 is the Liberal party and any vote for the NDP is a de facto vote for the Conservatives.
For his part, O’Toole has a single goal – to look and act like a future Prime Minister from the open to the close of both debates. The other serious contenders have all been through these nerve-racking encounters in 2019 but O’Toole is new to this stage. He must reclaim the trust of those voters who jumped to the Liberals in 2015 and stayed there in 2019. Look for attacks on Trudeau calling an unwanted election to continue. If he appears rattled by the Liberal leader, the election dynamic will almost certainly change and there will be little time to correct things as the Advance polls open on September 10th prior to the election on September 20th.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will need to protect his relevance – If he holds or builds on the NDP’s current share of the national vote, he can increase his seat count while also hurting the Liberals. Singh is currently positioned to play a significant role in a post-election minority parliament and a debate win for him could propel him into the all important third place (ahead of the Bloc) which can strategically be very advantageous in the House.
Yves-François Blanchet of the Bloc can have an impact on the vote split in Quebec but will be dismissed by most voters outside of that province as irrelevant because by definition, he is. The Bloc will almost certainly lose seats and Blanchet knows that the Bloc’s only power is with a minority government.
Annamie Paul of the Greens has her only opportunity of the entire campaign to show that her party is relevant. Internal fighting and a 100% focus on her riding of Toronto Centre has made her a non-player in this campaign.
People’s Party of Canada leader, Maxine Bernier did not qualify for the debates.