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Is it about the issues, or attacks? Federal leaders gather for English-language debate

Last Updated Oct 7, 2019 at 12:41 pm PDT

(From left) Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, PPC Leader Maxime Bernier, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick, Chris Young, Paul Chiasson, Adrian Wyld)
Summary

All six federal party leaders are set to take part in Monday's English-language debate

Pundit believes participants have been relatively even-keeled through the first half of the campaign

GATINEAU, Que. (NEWS 1130) – You might have to peer past the personal attacks, but there are issues in this federal election and hopefully we’ll hear some healthy debate over them in just a few hours.

All six federal leaders will gather at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec — the most sparring on stage together than any other time in Canadian history — for the final English language debate of the campaign.

Will the debate descend into assaults on character, focusing only on scandals? At least one pundit believes the participants have been relatively even-keeled through the first half of the campaign.

“I would characterize the tone so far as being fairly respectful, although there have certainly been some very pointed personal attacks against some of the leaders,” says Maxime Heroux-Legault, an assistant professor of political science at UBC, Okanagan. “Especially Liberal leader Justin Trudeau on the basis of the brown face incident.”

He also points to attacks on Conservative leader Andrew Scheer on the question of abortion in Canada. However, Heroux-Legault feels the character assaults and focus on scandal have not reached the intensity of the 2015 federal election.

“I think that maybe character attacks aren’t quite as strong this time around, maybe in good part because last time around people were essentially campaigning against Stephen Harper,” he tells NEWS 1130. “But this time, interestingly, what we find is that instead of attacking Scheer, they are trying to associate him with other people such as Ontario Premier Doug Ford.”

Heroux-Legault says Canada has seen a shift toward a “presidentialization” of politics. “This is the idea that we focus more and more on the leader rather than focusing on the party, the potential cabinet, the platform or the issues.”

One consequence is the character of the leader becomes increasingly important in both election coverage and in terms of the attack strategies adopted by the parties.

Not that there is an absence of issues.

“It’s worth pointing out that one of the major themes of this election is the environment. That’s been fairly dominant throughout the campaign and it expect it will remain so until election day. The cost of living as well — all of the parties are offering various measures in order to make life more affordable for Canadians,” explains Heroux-Legault.

“There is certainly an aspect of the campaign that focuses on the issues, but you do have to look for it.”

All six federal political party leaders will participate in a two-hour, English language debate today at 4pm PT.

The participants are Liberal Justin Trudeau, Conservative Andrew Scheer, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, Yves-Francois Blanchet with the Bloc Quebecois, Elizabeth May of the Green Party, and Maxime Bernier with the People’s Party of Canada.

-With files from Martin MacMahon