Five things to watch for in tonight's French language leaders' debate

For Mulcair, the stakes have never been higher. A preview of tonight's French-language debate

    OTTAWA — Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s French language debate as voters prepare to go to the polls in the Oct. 19 federal election:

    1. Target Tom Mulcair.

    In 2011, the NDP’s orange wave washed through the country’s second most vote-rich province, and that will make its leader Tom Mulcair a target. Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Liberal Justin Trudeau will be launching a pincer-style attack aimed at denigrating the NDP lead, while Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will likely pile on as well, in an attempt to hold on to his party’s handful of seats or even make a few small gains. For Mulcair, the stakes have never been higher.

    2. Sovereignty.

    Many Canadians outside Quebec don’t want to hear about the possibility of another referendum, but sovereignty questions have emerged again. Trudeau has taken Mulcair to task for his support of a 10-year-old NDP document called the Sherbrooke Declaration, which recognizes a win by the sovereigntist Yes side with a majority of just 50 per cent plus one. Trudeau favours the Clarity Act, which says any referendum must have a clear majority for separation. Harper can’t lose if he happens to mention that he was responsible for a motion that recognized Quebecers as a nation within Canada.

    3. The Niqab.

    This divisive issue resonates in Quebec. Duceppe and Harper are united in their opposition to the covering of faces by people swearing their oath in citizenship ceremonies, a popular view in the province. The Conservative government is fighting a court ruling that threw out the requirement for uncovered faces at the ceremonies in the case of a Muslim woman. Duceppe wants to invoke the notwithstanding clause to buttress legislation to ban the wearing of niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. This pits Harper and Duceppe against Green Leader Elizabeth May, Mulcair and Trudeau, who all support the right of people to wear face veils.

    4. Trudeau the underdog.

    The ghost of Pierre Elliot Trudeau will continue to haunt his son, Justin. After all, it was the elder Trudeau who repatriated the Canadian Constitution in 1982 without Quebec’s signature. The Liberal leader faces other challenges. Though Trudeau’s French is strong, Mulcair and Duceppe have a better command, while the Bloc leader’s decades of experience will also count in his favour. Some pundits say Trudeau should essentially tread water _ avoid risks and just hang on to whatever momentum his party has so far.

    5. Duceppe’s last stand?

    This could be one of the last big opportunities for the Bloc leader to save his party. Duceppe lost his own seat in the 2011 election that decimated the Bloc, leaving it with just four seats (it is now down to two). Duceppe lost his own seat, and faces a tough personal fight to win that back from the NDP’s Helene Laverdiere. His surprise return to lead the party this past spring caught many off guard, and sparked criticism. But he is still the most experienced politician on tonight’s stage. He will need all of that to succeed in convincing Quebecers his party still has something to say to them.

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