Trudeau on the Defensive, O’Toole Remains Composed in Final Leaders’ Debate

September 9, 2021 Updated: September 10, 2021


The English-language debate was by far the most spirited of the three leaders’ debates in this election. It was clear that participants felt compelled to try to score points in this final debate.

Traditionally the undecided segment of voters begin to make their selection once the debates are done. Every leader wants to appear strong and memorable in the final debate.

The moderation from Shachi Kurl was admirable and she had her work cut out for her as sparks repeatedly flew between the leaders. Leadership, indigenous reconciliation, climate change, affordability, and COVID recovery were set as the themes to be covered. I anticipated that this would be limited but the pointed questions from the moderator brought the debate outside of that narrow spectrum.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was embattled as every leader questioned his motives for calling an early election. The Afghanistan evacuation debacle was particularly cutting for Trudeau as it made the timing of his election call difficult to defend. He was flustered and clearly angry on a number of occasions during the debate. He had a hard time making policy commitments when other leaders had the opportunity to point out that he had six years to implement his proposals already.

In an exchange where Green Leader Annamie Paul questioned Trudeau’s credentials as a feminist and began listing the female MPs who left Trudeau’s caucus, he lost his composure. Trudeau interrupted Paul and took a shot at her, saying that he wouldn’t take lessons on caucus management from her. It was a condescending statement and made Trudeau look even more disrespectful of strong women. It was a bad error in judgment on the part of Trudeau. It was reminiscent of when Alberta Premier Jim Prentice talked down to Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley in saying “math is difficult” during the 2015 Alberta provincial election. Overall, Trudeau didn’t fare well in the debate.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh faced multiple questions on how realistic his policy set was. He has made big promises but has been short on details on how to achieve them. Singh talked around those questions. He was also by far the most aggressive of the leaders in the debate.

Singh repeatedly interrupted other candidates and had to be reigned in by the moderator. It is apparent that he feels pressure to score points against Trudeau. While he contributed to Trudeau’s loss of composure at times, I don’t think Singh gained any ground for his party in the debate. He spent an inordinate amount of time fighting with Paul for some reason. The NDP really shouldn’t feel threatened by the Green Party right now.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet was an abrasive presence in the debate. While it is unsurprising that he takes a Quebec-first approach to issues, it became almost offensive how Blanchet turned every question into an issue regarding Quebec. Even when asked about systemic racism, Blanchet turned his answer into a diatribe about how Quebec needs to be respected as a nation.

Blanchet tried to corner Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and get him to commit to refusing any pipelines across Quebec. O’Toole wouldn’t bite. It really makes one wonder why Blanchet was even present in the English-language debate if he refuses to answer with anything but attempts to push Quebec nationhood. He is a bright leader. He could have spoken more directly to issues.

Paul held her own but really didn’t have much impact. Her performance was respectable but did little to aid in the fortunes of the Green Party.

While he was repeatedly baited and attacked by other leaders, O’Toole remained carefully cool and composed throughout the debate. It was clearly a planned strategy and must have taken quite some self-control.

O’Toole wasn’t great with putting out solid policy statements and didn’t make many ripples on that front. In remaining reserved in what was a raucous debate, he did present an impression of leadership that likely gained him some approval from viewers. While he didn’t set the world on fire during the debate, I do think O’Toole made the most gains for his party, even if modest.

The English-language debate was par for the course as far as these things go. Most leaders stuck to their carefully crafted lines and there were no surprises.

I don’t think there was a clear loser, though Trudeau was clearly on the defensive for most of the night. If anybody made gains it was O’Toole in his calm, collected approach to the affair. For those who are just beginning to get to know O’Toole, I suspect most were impressed with how he presented himself.

This debate was solid, but won’t have much impact on the electoral showings in any dramatic way.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Cory Morgan
Cory Morgan is a columnist and business owner based in Calgary, Alberta.