It's a date: English-language leaders' debate confirmed for Sept. 17

For the first time in Quebec electoral history, there will be a televised English-language leaders' debate.

Liberals, PQ, CAQ and QS party leaders will go head to head just before the fall election

Left to right, Philippe Couillard, Jean-François Lisée and François Legault, as well as Québec Solidaire's Manon Massé, will take part in an English-language televised debate on Sept. 17. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

For the first time in Quebec electoral history, there will be a televised English-language leaders' debate.

A date has been set for Monday, Sept. 17 — two weeks before Quebecers head to the polls on Oct. 1.

The leaders of all four parties with seats in the National Assembly will take part in the 90-minute debate.

They are: 

  • Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard.
  • Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault.
  • Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée.
  • Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Massé.

In an interview with CBC on Tuesday, Couillard said his strategy will be to hammer home what the Liberals have done for the English-speaking community, mentioning the creation of the secretariat responsible for relations with anglophone Quebecers.

"I'm not going to present different arguments to English-speaking Quebecers than to French-speaking Quebecers we are all facing the same issues. Certain issues are more specific to English-speaking Quebecers, of course I will address them."

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard appeared with the Liberal party's new campaign president, Alexandre Taillefer, during a news conference in Montreal on Tuesday. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

The announcement comes about two weeks after a consortium of English-language media in Quebec — including the CBC, CTV, Global, CJAD and the Montreal Gazette — made a formal request for an English-language debate.

"We know we have a wider playing field this time around … and the way the English communities cast their vote can have a real influence on the outcome, and I think it's a real recognition of that," said Helen Evans, CBC's managing editor in Quebec.

The format of the debate has yet to be determined, but Evans says there will be questions about specific issues affecting anglophones and "really holding them, the parties, to account for the services and things that matter to the English-speaking community."

CBC will be broadcasting the live debate on television, radio and online from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

According to Radio-Canada's Martine Biron, Québec solidaire had wanted Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who is the party's other spokesperson, to take part in the debate because his English is better, but the Liberals and PQ wouldn't allow it.

The only English-language leaders' debate in Quebec history was a radio-only debate on CJAD in 1985 between Liberal leader Robert Bourassa, left, and PQ leader Pierre-Marc Johnson, right. Moderating that debate was then-McGill University principal David Johnston, centre, who went on to become Canada's governor general from 2010 to 2017. (Robert Linney)

On CBC Montreal's Daybreak Monday morning, Nadeau-Dubois said he and Massé both have "very bad accents" but that he may have an advantage when it comes to his English vocabulary.

The only time party leaders took part in an English-language debate was in 1985, but that one was not televised. The radio-only matchup was between Liberal leader Robert Bourassa and PQ leader Pierre-Marc Johnson.

For Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, a group representing English-language community groups across the province, the debate is an unprecedented acknowledgement of anglophone voters.

"I think it's very good for the electoral debate as a whole," Chambers said. "It's a big step forward."

He said he hopes that the debate is structured and moderated in a way that addresses issues that matter to anglophones.

What topics do you think should be covered in the debate? Weigh in below in the comments section.

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