The one-and-only official English-language debate of the 2019 Canadian election aired Monday night, with the six federal party leaders taking the stage to hash it out over climate change, immigration, leadership, and more. With the October 21 vote less than two weeks away and polls showing Justin Trudeau's Liberals virtually tied with Andrew Scheer's Conservatives in the polls, the debate was a chance for a clear front runner to emerge. Given that the whole thing was two, messy hours, you could be forgiven for tuning out after you tuned in. Here's what you missed, including who won the debate and who delivered the best one-liners.
And the winner of the debate is...
Well, it's not entirely clear. Neither People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier nor the Bloc's Yves-François Blanchet were first-place contenders. But Jagmeet Singh of the NDP and the Green Party's Elizabeth May both delivered strong performances, with some political observers hailing Singh as the debate's winner, because of his ability to cut through all the bickering and deliver a clear message. He was, yet again, put in the position of explaining why Quebec's controversial Bill 21, which bans religious symbols and attire in public-sector jobs, is harmful and divisive — and was commended by other leaders for his grace when faced with racism on the campaign trail.
Team Trudeau will be pleased enough with last night's result since the prime minster escaped the debate without any major blunders, which is no small thing given his record was the target of most of the other leaders' criticisms. On the other hand, he didn't soar, either. And his attempts to paint Scheer as someone hiding his true, ugly self — "Mr. Bernier, your role on this stage tonight seems to be to say publicly what Mr. Scheer thinks privately" — didn't really seem to land.
Scheer got in a number of hits, calling Trudeau a phony, pointing to Trudeau's firing of Jody Wilson-Raybould as conflicting with his image of supporting women and Indigenous people, and accusing him of wearing masks, both literal and figurative: "You know he's very good at pretending things, he can't even remember how many times he put blackface on because the fact of the matter is he's always wearing a mask."
But if viewers were looking for a clear winner between Scheer and Trudeau, they'd likely be disappointed — neither managed to stand out in the night's chaos.
The format was a hot mess
If there's one thing everyone agrees on about last night's debate it's that the format was the worst. Having all six leaders on stage alone is a recipe for confusion, but there was also a rotating chair of moderators (five journalists, all women, and each overseeing a different section of the debate), and questions from "real people" across the country delivered via a video feed. But there were also questions direct from the moderators, and from leaders themselves, who were given a chance to pick an opponent of their choosing, and there was time for open debate on various issues. It all made for an unfocused, unclear, and muddled evening.
Climate change was the hot topic
The debate was broken into five topics: affordability and economic insecurity; national and global leadership; Indigenous issues; polarization, human rights, and immigration; and the environment and energy. It was climate that got the most attention, thanks in part to May continuing to criticize the Liberal climate change plan as too-little-too-late. And it's worth pointing out that the format meant many important issues, such as health care, violence against women, and childcare were basically off the table.
The award for the best one-liners goes to...
Most Canadians don't watch the debate, and in the age of social media, the pressure is on leaders to deliver quotes that can go viral and moments that make great memes. Elizabeth May, who continually shines at the debates despite acknowledging that her party will not form government, held onto her title as Canada's queen of quips. She slammed all the leaders for having inadequate climate plans, called-out Scheer for answering a question about Canadian values by attacking Trudeau, and told Scheer it would be the Liberals, not the Conservatives, to win this election. And in a brief but fiery exchange between the leaders about abortion, she lambasted Scheer once more for his personal pro-life position: "We must be clear as all leaders — and you are not clear Andrew — that we will never allow a single inch of retreat from the hard-earned rights of women in this country. Not one inch."
And if you were playing our debate drinking game...
We hope you feel okay this morning. Because, as we predicted, Scheer was totally focused on Trudeau, Singh quickly made mention of the real people he's met on the campaign trail, Trudeau brought up Doug Ford, and you probably wished Bernier was represented by an empty podium often enough to have a bad headache this morning. Though, to be fair, that debate was enough to give anyone a headache.