The Weekly Look-Ahead

October 7, 2019

The week ahead will have a heavy focus on the two official election debates. The six leaders of Canada’s major parties—Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Yves-François Blanchet, Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May, and Maxime Bernier will first face-off in English tonight. A second debate will follow in French on Wednesday.

Debates matter. Leader performances can make the difference in toss-up ridings where every vote will count. Debates can also have a broader regional impact. For example, the framing of his positioning on Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21, could make or break Mr. Trudeau in Quebec. Likewise, the framing of pipeline capacity needs can impact Mr. Scheer in British Columbia, where the left vote is fragmented between Greens, the NDP and Liberals.

Out of the five topics that will be debated tonight, the focus will be on “affordability & economic security” and“environment & energy”. Mr. Trudeau will focus on his Government’s track record, on the environment, commitments on tax cuts and affordability measures, and will attack Conservatives by stressing that tax cuts hurt and the Conservatives don’t have a “real plan” on the environment. Mr. Scheer, on the other hand, will attack Mr. Trudeau on his record, on issues like the SNC-Lavalin affair and blackface / brown face scandal. Mr. Scheer will also target his message on affordability items like tax credits and his party’s environment focus on “taking the fight globally”.

The French debate will be particularly important as Mr. Blanchet has made real gains in seat projections in Quebec, which was further propelled by the TVA debate last week. Blanchet, who is seen by many as the winner of the French debate went up in seat projections by 5-6 seats following the debate. Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer will be focusing their debate on getting some of that support in swing ridings diverted back to their tents.

The debate performance is as much about what happens live as is about the live framing of items on social media, and content generation thereafter. The traditional wisdom on elections is that a good amount of people who watch the debate have already decided their vote. However, it can certainly make a difference. First,debates held shape viewers' opinions in swing ridings where every vote count. Second, through content generated in social media platforms a sense of “winners and losers” emerges. Content rolled-out live by the parties, and content framed thereafter by both political parties and news outlets are impactful in how the electorate, and different micro-targets shape their decisions.

Therefore, all party leaders will be focused on delivering that killer line to either frame their bid for votes or attack the other leaders. Examples of these killer lines include Brian Mulroney’s famous line directed to Joe Turner: “You had an option sir, you could have done better”, or the "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" remark made during the 1988 United States vice-presidential debate by Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Republican vice-presidential candidate Senator Dan Quayle.