The five leaders of the federal parties faced off in the second televised francophone debate of the 2021 election campaign. Justin Trudeau (Liberal Party of Canada), Yves-François Blanchet (Bloc Québécois), Erin O’Toole (Conservative Party of Canada), Jagmeet Singh (New Democratic Party) and Annamie Paul (Green Party of Canada) had the opportunity to defend their ideas in front of Canadians, live from the Canadian Museum of History, in Gatineau Quebec.

This exchange was divided into five themes: the COVID-19 pandemic and health care; the cost of living and public finances; Indigenous issues, identity, and culture; the environment; and finally, justice and foreign affairs.

Unlike last week’s “face-to-face” debate, the format combined live questions from citizens, journalists and host Patrice Roy, with an open-round of debate for the five leaders, which created a very different pace of discussion.

Your H+K in Quebec team has identified five key takeaways from this debate:

1. A format not conducive to strong moments

To the detriment of voters and listeners, the pace of the debate did provide an opportunity for the leaders to debate properly or to destabilize their opponents. The high number of speeches, topics and rapid-fire questions was not conducive to discussion or in-depth answers on the fundamental issues of the campaign.

2. No winner, no star player

As with the previous francophone debate, no one really stood out during the evening. However, Trudeau and Blanchet’s experience in this type of televised debate was evident.

The Prime Minister took up the most speaking time as he defended his government’s record.

The Bloc leader, Yves-François Blanchet, gave a sustained performance in several segments. His clear interventions on the issues of health care and labour shortages could resonate in ridings where the fight is getting tighter.

The leaders of the Green Party and the NDP shared similar positions and agreed on some issues, making it difficult for their respective parties to distinguish themselves.

3. A few stumbling blocks

More intense exchanges on childcare funding in Quebec occurred as Erin O’Toole remained vague on the fate of the $6 billion federal/Quebec agreement.

In an attempt to set an example when asked about the official recognition of Indigenous languages, Trudeau recalled the appointment of Mary May Simon as Governor General. This appointment was controversial in Quebec because Ms. Simon does not speak French.

The most vigorous exchanges, however, came towards the end of the debate on identity issues. “I am proud to be a Quebecer. You will not accuse me of not being a Quebecer, Mr. Blanchet!” retorted Justin Trudeau, in a response to Yves-François Blanchet who had just challenged him.

4. Missed opportunities for Conservative leader

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole seems to have missed a few opportunities to stand out, but mainly to attack Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, his main rival in the campaign as revealed by the latest polls. Despite mentioning that he is “the only leader who can replace Mr. Trudeau,” Erin O’Toole missed the opportunity to appeal to Francophone voters by remaining vague on conservative orientations. Falling behind the Liberals in voting intentions in Quebec, his fighting spirit was not evident.

5. A “forgotten” audience

Another observation that emerged from the debate was that the federal leaders seemed to have forgotten to address the citizens who are listening, those who are looking for motivation and reasons to follow along with this election campaign. With evasive answers and lack of clarity, the leaders missed the opportunity to charm the general public and get closer to the voters.

Ready-made answers (referred to as “political tape”) have been used extensively by the leaders. With a dozen days to go before election day, there has been no change in tone from any of the five candidates, giving no indication of a debate that will move voting intentions or result in the election of a majority government. It remains to be seen whether this will have an impact on turnout.

The leaders will take the same stage again tonight, this time in the English debate.

Tonight, the topics will include affordability; climate; COVID recovery; leadership and accountability; and reconciliation. In this last official debate of this election, the leaders will have to make this debate count. We expect that the Prime Minister will continue to defend his record while hoping to cast doubt and mistrust toward Erin O’Toole as having a different agenda than what he has told Canadians thus far, while Mr. O’Toole will likely stay with his positive and forward-looking campaign promises and contrast that with the same attack that the NDP will use which is to point out that Trudeau makes great promises at election time, but the ability or willingness to deliver on that while in government is a different matter altogether.


Authored by: Iman Marzouk, Josiane Hébert,  Pierre Tremblay, Jean-François Landry, Brandon Pelletier-Gannon