#DebatDesChefs: French Language Debate was the Most Fiery and Interesting of #ELXN42 So Far

debat des chefs 2015

I guess you could chalk it up to a victory for traditional debate media. The French language leaders’ debate or #debatdeschefs was hosted by Radio Canada, making it the first debate of this campaign hosted by media that usually host debates.

It was, by far, the fieriest and most interesting debate we’ve had this campaign. This could be because it was the first to feature five major party leaders, Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May and Gilles Duceppe. It could also be because the moderators knew how to ask the right questions. Regardless of the reason, it was a good one.

But how did the leaders do? Well…in no particular order, here’s what I thought (with a little help from the live tweets I made during the debate):

Gilles Duceppe

With the Bloc Quebecois tanking in the polls and Gilles Duceppe projected to lose badly in his own riding, this was the newly re-minted leader’s shot. He needed to pull off a knockout victory if he wanted to have a chance of taking back what the Bloc lost in 2011. He failed.

He did have some memorable moments, most notably when he turned the pipeline debate into an issue of separation of powers and was backed up by May. Before that moment, the energy section was just a re-hash of the previous two debates.

Duceppe also started strong with his opposition to women wearing the Niqab at citizenship ceremonies, something the Bloc has really been pushing in the past week. But then it turned into a debate between Mulcair and Harper. By that point Duceppe had faded into the background.

He also got left out of the fray when it came to rules for Quebec sovereignty. That turned into a debate between two federalists, Mulcair and Trudeau.

He was also responsible for one of the more confusing moments of the night when things turned to the Senate and the NDP’s plans to open the constitution in order to abolish it:

Duceppe has one more shot, the TVA debate on October 2nd, to save his party from obscurity.

Stephen Harper

Our sitting PM Stephen Harper seemed like he would rather have been actually sitting during most of this debate. He started off alert when the Niqab discussion was happening, claiming that he would never force his daughter to cover her face. Mulcair argued that the Conservative leader’s approach to helping oppressed women was wrong-headed. I had this to say:

After that, Harper seemed to doze off. Maybe he was trying to play the father figure unimpressed with the kids arguing or maybe he really just didn’t care. Regardless, he seemed to perk up near the end when discussion shifted to one of his favourite subjects:

Thomas Mulcair

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was king of the one-liner at this debate. From his comment on other parties incurring debt which ended with “for everything else, there’s MasterCard” to his line about Harper hiding his failed economic policy behind a niqab to this gem:

Leading the polls in Quebec, everyone thought Mulcair would be under fire from all sides in this debate and he was. He handled it by not really handling it. He didn’t go all Angry Tom, he stuck to his message instead. He offered the same delivery he did in English, that of someone carefully choosing his words.

He seemed rehearsed and holding back, but that worked in his favour this time. It said loud and clear that he isn’t really fazed by the nature of the debate. He was going to stick to script no matter what. Also, that he was the same debater in English and in French, countering some recent criticism.

No, he didn’t have a Layton moment, like the one that turned Quebec voter intentions into a wave that wiped out the Bloc in 2011, but one wasn’t needed and going after Duceppe would have been counter-productive. Better to treat him as an after-thought and focus on Harper instead.

The counter-argument is that by playing it mellow he wasn’t doing much to inspire Quebec voters, just reassure them that they had made the right choice. His best course of action would be to prepare things he is going to say, but go off script in the next two debates, once in English and once in French.

Justin Trudeau

By contrast, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau came across as natural. He looked good on camera and really tried to play to the crowd:

He looked like the perfect candidate to play the Prime Minister in a movie, and not just a CBC movie of the week, I’m talking about a major Hollywood production. The problem is he wasn’t working with a script that could really connect with voters. His best moment in the debate cast him in a supporting role, reminding Mulcair and Harper, who were arguing about niqabs and how best to protect women that the only woman in the room, May, had yet to speak on the subject. Kudos to him for calling out their man-splaining. It made him more likeable, for sure. Electable? Well…

Elizabeth May

It’s unfortunate that Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s French wasn’t better. If it had been, she probably would have interjected more and may have very well won the debate. She made some of the best observations of the evening. When everyone was talking Quebec independence, she was the only one to mention that natives had their own right to self-determination:

When the topic was the niqab she said loud and clear that it was a distraction, which then encouraged Trudeau and Mulcair to do the same.

Also, when Duceppe made the pipeline discussion about provincial jurisdiction, she agreed. She added, though, that the people of British Columbia were in solidarity with those in Quebec who did not want Ottawa imposing pipelines on their communities.

This debate helped breathe new life into a very long campaign that seemed to be dragging on for a while. Could the real winner of the debate possibly be the debate itself?

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