After five debates, some lessons about Justin Trudeau -

After five debates, some lessons about Justin Trudeau

The Liberal leader’s opponents wanted lots of debates to increase the odds of him messing up. That gambit didn’t work out so well.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau arrives for the final leaders debate in Montreal Que., on Friday, October 2, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau arrives for the final leaders debate in Montreal Que., on Friday, October 2, 2015.(Nathan Denette, The Canadian Press)

I like Greg Lyle, a Toronto pollster whose Innovative Research Group is not one of the firms Ottawa listens to most attentively, but who finds interesting connections in the data he collects. On Friday he released a new report that showed a rough three-way tie among the big national parties, but that also suggested Canadians have grown so heartily sick of this campaign they are having a hard time taking in new information.

“As the election nears, it appears Canadians are paying less attention to the election, not more,” he wrote. “Roughly four in 10 Canadians heard something about or saw at least some of the Maclean’s and The Globe and Mail debates. That dropped to one in four for the French debate and the Munk debate. In a similar development, all three main parties registered their lowest level of awareness so far in this campaign in response to our ‘read, seen or heard anything about that party’ question. It looks like Canadians are tiring of campaign rhetoric.”

So the first thing to say about Friday’s TVA debate is that one shouldn’t presume it had an attentive audience. And that even to the extent people were paying attention—I listened pretty closely, being as how it’s my job and all—it’s not clear, even then, how much new information they would have received. We’ve heard much of it so many times that we could sing along. Tom Mulcair has a line about how the Liberals were so insincere about the Kyoto Accord that Jean Chrétien’s right-hand man, Eddie Goldenberg, later admitted there was no plan for implementing the thing. It’s not a memorable line. And yet I’ve heard it more often than I’ve heard most Beatles songs.

So the TVA debate, widely advertised as a key moment because the network’s “face to face” confrontations have been ratings hits during the last two Quebec provincial elections, felt more like a reunion tour by a particularly grumpy old-timers’ band. They played all the hits. Even if you were desperate for them to stop. And they weren’t always really happy to be back together. “Mr. Mulcair, you’ve made the wrong choices,” Justin Trudeau told the NDP leader by way of greeting. Mulcair replied: “You want to talk about choices? You supported a string of Conservative budgets (that is, in the minority-government years, when opposing the government meant risking an election) and you supported Bill C-51,” the Conservative anti-terrorism bill. And that was just how they said hello.

Related reading: Highlights from Friday’s French language debate 

Harper accused the Chrétien-Martin Liberals of having “the worst record in history” on carbon emissions, which is pretty close to being accurate. Duceppe mocked the serpentine path Mulcair has trod on the simple question of whether he supports the Energy East pipeline project, popular in the prairie West, less so in Quebec. “Win-win-win,” Duceppe said, quoting Mulcair, as Mulcair tried to talk. “Win-win-win.” Mulcair tried again to get a word in. “Win. Win. Win.” It was juvenile, but you say juvenile like it’s a bad thing.

Mulcair needed to perform very well to arrest an alarming slide in the polls, and he did, especially on the issue that seems to have done him the most damage, the vexing, if almost unbelievably narrow, question of niqab in citizenship ceremonies. Mulcair started with a narrow attack on Harper—denying Harper the right to claim feminist motivation, given the rest of his record on women’s issues—then broadening it into a general question of rights. It was a principled stand on treacherous ground, and I think it honoured Mulcair.

Harper had little trouble rebutting. “you can’t even persuade your own candidates of your position,” he said, which in several instances is true. And: “You talk about divisions. Just about the only division is between Liberals and New Democrats and the rest of the population.”

If the lines were mostly familiar, the general tone and attitude behind them was perhaps all the more important. Mulcair did himself some good, reining in his tendency to patronize listeners, restraining his temper better than in previous encounters. But I think it was Trudeau who cut the most impressive figure. He gave a sense of poise, policy ambition and cocksure readiness to spar with any of the other leaders. Once again I was reminded that one reason there have been so many debates in this odd campaign season was because Trudeau’s opponents wanted to multiply his opportunities to screw up. He’s now put the last debate behind him, and to some extent their gambit has backfired. Marc Garneau, who failed to stop Trudeau during the Liberal leadership race two years ago, could perhaps have warned the other parties about their likelihood of succeeding.

I always remind myself that voters are less interested in voting for a debate winner than they are in selecting a head of government. Maybe Harper’s low-key but effective rebuttals will impress more viewers of Friday’s debate, or maybe the spectre of Gilles Duceppe will remind them that voting for the Bloc Québécois is still an option. And it may well be that Trudeau’s spirited advocacy of policies that are simply unpopular in Quebec, like veiled voting, will not get him far at all. Or even make him a target of voter wrath.

But this election is turning, as it always seemed it might, into a referendum on change vs. more of the same. Change may yet lose, as it has lost ground, a little more each time, in every election Harper has fought as an incumbent. Nothing is guaranteed. But at long last this whole campaign feels like it is heading into the home stretch.


After five debates, some lessons about Justin Trudeau

  1. Trudeau won the debates 5 out of 5 times, Harper sweated and pandered the debates 5 out of 5 times, and Mulcair was mopped in the floor, 5 out 5 times by Trudeau. Vote for Trudeau, he is ready for Canada, and Canada is ready for Trudeau, smart, confident and authentic, and honest with voters, never had to change his course in this election since it started, the other two, Harper and Mulcair had more make-overs than Michael Jackson..

    • You say that Mr Trudeau has never had to change his course. But someone had to change his diapers when he commented about the Chinese dictatorship .

  2. Nah, Mulcair won this one.

    Trudeau’s whining about personal attacks lost him points, for me.

  3. It might be pollsters Canadians are weary of. I hope they put some kind of limits on them a few days before the campaign.

  4. I think you’ve made enough money off Harper. Time to move on.

  5. Off topic, but I wanted to raise a peculiar sidebar point

    Back on March 29, 2012, Harper cancelled Katimavik – a 1977 program for youth started by Pierre Trudeau. It was a $10 million a year program that was regarded as being politically benign and in general provided a good opportunity for thoughtful youth to explore Canada through volunteering.

    Justin Trudeau boxed Patrick Brazeau on March 31, 2012 sporting a hand drawn Katimavik symbol on his right bicep.

    Given what we know about Harper’s hatred of all things Trudeau, it is not a stretch to think that Harper cancelling Katimavik was vindictive and “personal.”

    Justin Trudeau had always denied he was running for the Liberal Party leadership, but rumours began to swirl in September of 2012 that he was now considering it. The rest, as they say, is history.

    My point is : Did the cancellation of Katimiavik so rub Justin’s nose out of joint that he changed his mind about running for the party leadership and if so, is it not rather “Shakespearean” that if the Liberals manage to unseat Harper in this election, that the events were put in motion by a small (and some would say) petty decision on Harper’s part?

    • Considering that Trudeau announced his leadership bid 6 months after funding for Katimavik was cut, the link is tenuous.

      • Ummm… doesn’t that mean that the cutting of Katimavik might have set some dominoes in play?

    • Suuuuurrrrre. There there now. Back to your room….

      • You seem pretty sure about things: are you an expert on JT’s motivations – or just another wiseacre?
        I submit to you that all our lives are shaped by unusual events that might seem inconsequential to others, but become pivotal in determining a path.

  6. This is another case of a Paul Wells article where I get to the end and I have no idea what point he’s trying to make, or why he even wrote it.
    He thought Mulcair repeated tired old lines, but with honour.
    He thought Harper rebutted effectively, but their issues are divisive.
    He thinks Justin sparred well, but nobody watched.

    I get the feeling Wells is like a 60’s band and has to crank out drivel to fulfill a record contract.

    • Have you tried Ezra Levant?
      He presents everything slowly, with small words and a smile on his face, in the manner of a kindergarten teacher explaining where ducks go in the winter.
      At the end you’re never left wondering how you’re supposed to think about the subject.

    • Paul Wells’ last column ‘As far as I can tell, Stephen Harper is winning’, called the likely outcome as a (probable) Harper victory and he’s now having some doubts, hence the hedging.

      He is probably right, the numbers do point to a Harper seat plurality but Paul is likely mindful that a mere plurality doesn’t get Harper what he needs to still be PM by Christmas.

  7. Trudope?

    1. Never had a job – never had to worry about paying a bill.
    2. Wants to allow terrorists with dual citizenship to remain Canadian.
    3. Wants to open the doors to illegal invaders from Europe – most of whom have now been admitted by the EU to not be refugees.
    4. Fully supports the UN – see who truly runs the UN here:
    5. Dos not support the Canadian military – in fact he may be worse than his low life father was in that regard.
    5. Wants to blame everyone but Wynne for the loss of manufacturing jobs in Ontario.
    6. Spends far too much time in known jihadist mosques. See my number 4 for reasons why.
    7. Could not stand up to Putin to save his life.
    8. And more…….

    I recognize that the average entitled canucklehead is a socialist – and wants everyone to be the same – however trudope and Canada can only hope to go broke spending everyone’s money.

    No one has asked him how to balance a budget because we now know it will balance itself. We will see.

    We all know he wants to “whip out” his F-18 for everyone to see.

    All the above being stated it would not surprise me if trudope was the next pm – the media has had a love affair with this guy’s hair do for the past three years and gives him a pass on most if not all of his shortcomings. A free ride with no tough questions or hard looks at his policies. Policies? Really?

    Yeah, he will legalize marijuana – good one, eh?

    This guy needs to be dropped in the back room and locked way.

    Canada would be the better for it.

    As it stands right now – when he gets elected Canada will be the laughing stock of the west.

    • You got yourself accedently caught in a two year old cyber time warp, and this got published.
      Now they say “He belongs.”

    • Hey! I can make stuff up too!


      1. First job he got was when he daddy pulled some strings to get him a job in his daddy’s company.
      2. Ever since then he has been living off taxpayers, first by whining about taxes and then by becoming an MP.
      3. Ergo – he knows nothing about working in the real world.
      4. Makes stuff up about terrorists, brown people and anyone else he can marginalize into a wedge issue, without the slightest concern about how that will impact our society. Or, for that matter, without the slightest concern that the vast majority of Canadians do not support him.

      Actually, I am going to stop now, because unlike that utter rubbish you listed, mine are factual.

    • Will Ted Nugent leave the country too?

  8. I think it was Churchill who said “Never underestimate a pugilist who can kick the crap out of a conservative senator”.

  9. You hope that change diminishes in importance, Paul, because then your hero triumphs. But not this time, alas. He will be consigned to the dustbins of history, where he so rightly belongs.

  10. Paul says: “I think it was Trudeau who cut the most impressive figure. He gave a sense of poise, policy ambition.”

    So because he has great presentation skills, carefully honed by handlers [former Democratic advisers], Mr. Trudeau is capable as a leader? Oh dear Lord.

    I’m guessing Mr. Wells sees beneath the patina of good looks, memorization of canned lines and reposts, that Mr. Trudeau is intensely out of his depth. The PM and Mr. Mulcair can get down in the weeds re Syrian’s geo-politics, but Mr. Trudeau spouts platitudes about training and peace-keeping. So why does Mr. Wells give power to this charade?

    Will Canadians elect someone who looks good, but is politically uber-lite? The Liberals party passed over seriously intelligent front-runners for the candidacy, to go with a “brand” name back-bencher; their mission is aided by these type of sound-bites and headlines – all spoon-fed by a supporting, fawning media.

  11. Clearly Paul Wells’ infatuation with the Clown Prince of Canadian politics, Justin Trudeau, is intense and irrational. There is no other explanation for his belief that Justin Trudeau cut the most impressive figure in the TVA debate. When he said to Gilles Duceppe : « Mais c’est une question d’histoire, mon amour» it was the grossest kind of error you would expect from a doddering old man, not a man in his early forties. And Trudeau’s recovery line, bringing his wife into the debate, wasn’t calculated to enhance his reputation among feminists. He doesn’t think quickly on his feet, as was already clear from his deer-in-the-headlights expression in the first debate when Mr. Mulcair asked him to give him a number for a qualified majority in a Quebec referendum. (Mr. Mulcair never got one, or a clear response as to why he thought it was inappropriate to provide one.)
    Elsewhere in the debate Mr. Trudeau said to PM Harper: « Vous avez fait des déficits vous-même dans les bonnes années, vous avez fait des déficits dans les mauvaises années. Les seules années que vous n’avez pas de déficit, c’est les années électorales. » This was a repeat of his accusation in the Calgary debate in September in English : “You have run deficits in good years, run deficits in bad years. The only time you haven’t run deficits in is in election years.” Probably Mr. Trudeau has repeated this on other occasions. If he had only said it once, one would attribute it to his general cluelessness: he is someone who thinks that David Dodge was the former Chair of the Bank of Canada after all, and that we have a whole list of former Parliamentary Budget Officers. However, by repeating it he showed that he is a shameless liar, as he has lots of bright staffers who would have told him the truth. PM Harper has run three actual budget surpluses, in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2014-15, all non-election years.
    It speaks very poorly for Mr. Wells that in his infatuation with Mr. Trudeau he would simply ignore such a brazen lie regarding one of the top priorities of the Harper government: to bring the budget back into balance, which, pace Mr. Trudeau, happened in 2014-5, the fiscal year before the October election.