Trudeau Wins Debate He Didn’t Even Attend

Justin Trudeau emerged the winner of tonight’s first leadership debate, without even attending. 

The opening of the first leadership debate, L-R Elizabeth May, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, with an empty lecturn for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau who no-showed for the debate.

Andrew Scheer spent a good deal of the back half of the debate attacking Trudeau when it came to questions about foreign policy, his support of Brexit, and Indigenous issues. 

What was clear about Mr. Scheer’s performance tonight was how fundamentally unprepared he was, not just for this debate, but on matters of foreign policy, immigration, and legal issues, particularly having Elizabeth May next to him, a practicing lawyer who has a reputation for being extremely well prepared and versed in policy issues.

Elizabeth May drove a large part of the debate narrative around the climate crisis and the insufficient action that the other federal parties have taken and have proposed. She made the case for being ready to play a larger role in Parliament, with a well-prepared debate performance. 

There were a few odd moments in her comments; first of which stood out being her lacklustre answer on her opposition to Quebec’s Bill 21 – where she said she respected Quebec’s role in passing that legislation – but that she would like to facilitate finding employment for anyone who decides to leave Quebec because of it. 

The second was her statement that we would put millions of Canadians to work retrofitting every single building in Canada for energy efficiency. Ms. May apparently hasn’t looked at what Canada’s employment picture is at the moment with most provinces and regions except Alberta nearing full functional employment capacity. 

The surprise performance of the night from the leaders who were present belongs to Jagmeet Singh. This is largely, in my view, because Mr. Singh faced such low expectations heading into the debate, but he still held his own. 

He was able to smartly attack Trudeau on his policy failures without completely diverging from the topic at hand; He also successfully several times made the case that the Prime Minister and Mr. Scheer were really two sides of the same coin who were beholden to corporate interests. 

I was concerned with some of the populist and protectionist rhetoric that came out of Mr. Singh, including comments about “Buy Canadian” provisions around procurement with public dollars. It is clear that on the balance, free trade has been good for Canada’s prosperity. 

Overall, the winner tonight was the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Mr. Singh, and Ms. May did enough to attack Mr. Scheer’s credibility, Mr. Scheer brought down his own credibility with an under-prepared and inarticulate performance, and at the same time Ms. May and Mr. Singh both made points about progress that Mr. Trudeau has made in the past four years. 

If Prime Minister Trudeau is capable of winning a debate without even being there, unless Mr. Scheer does a magnificent job preparing for the next debate, the only thing holding back Trudeau’s aspirations for a second majority term will be the overachievement of May and Singh. 

This post contains opinionated analysis of the leadership debate.

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