Leaders spar behind a thin veil of politesse in final debate

How polite was last night's French-language leaders' debate? It was so polite, at one point, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe "my love." But the veil of politesse didn't last the whole night.

After a slow start, leaders heat up over what Muslim women can wear at citizenship ceremonies

Key moments from leaders' debate in Montreal

8 years ago
Duration 2:06
Hannah Thibedeau breaks down the important exchanges at the last party leaders' debate before the election

How polite was last night's French-language leaders' debate?

It was so polite, at one point, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, "my love."

Trudeau had meant to say "my friend" — and it should be noted that in French, the terms "mon amour" and "mon ami" are a little closer than their English counterparts.

The Liberal leader chalked up the verbal slip to the fact that it felt like he was arguing with his wife. Duceppe seemed flattered, but unconvinced.

None of this to say that politesse is unwelcome in the political area — but we Canadians haven't seen it for a while.

It did fade to the background during the brief exchange about the debate over the niqab.

Each leader restated their well-established positions on the contentious topics. But then there was a bit of twist.

The moderator asked whether this public and acrimonious debate itself risked stoking anti-Muslim sentiments, or  — on the flip-side — risks alienating young Muslims and in fact pushing them toward radicalization.

Harper brushed off the question — shrugging and saying Canada remains a multicultural country.

His opponents, however, leapt at it.

Women's rights

Trudeau attempted to expand the question to the wider topic of women's rights — accusing Harper of having "more men in your caucus who oppose abortion than there are women in Quebec who wear the niqab."

Mulcair accused Harper of playing a "dangerous game," the likes of which Mulcair says he has never seen — then went on to list a number of Conservative candidates who have made controversial comments (some could be considered racist comments.)

Then Duceppe decided to double down on the topic, accusing Harper of "hypocrisy" because he only wants to ban the niqab during citizenship ceremonies and not when voting or receiving government services.

It's about Quebec

Recent polls in the province are starting to show some movement, but with more than two weeks left in this campaign, it really is anybody's game.

The NDP, once head-and-shoulders above the other parties in the polls, is back in a competitive race.

The Bloc, once written off, is now back in a competitive race.

You wouldn't have known, at first blush, that the race in Quebec is between those two parties. Both leaders principally took their fight to Harper and largely ignored one another.

Justin Trudeau calls Gilles Duceppe 'mon amour'

8 years ago
Duration 0:19
Liberal leader had meant to say 'my friend,' or 'mon ami' but suffered a slip of the tongue

That, however, is part of the strategy. Quebecers have shown for more than 20 years they are interested in electing people who will stand up for them.

In 2011, when it became clear the Conservatives would finally achieve their goal of a forming a majority government, the vote went to a party that could form a strong opposition: the NDP.

In his closing statement Friday, Duceppe declared the country was headed for another minority government — and that only his party could get Quebec's "fair share."

The Bloc leader, however, did show his age at the beginning of the debate. When speaking about the economy, Duceppe made a reference to "Art Carney."

Trudeau corrected him with a gentle smile, saying simply: "Mark, Mark Carney."

Mark Carney, of course, is the former governor of the bank of Canada, now governor of the Bank of England.

Art Carney was an American actor most remembered for his role as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, a television sitcom that first aired in the early 1950s.

Just like in the old TV show, while there was much posturing Friday, no candidate received one "right in the kisser," or sent another "bang, zoom, straight to the moon."

However, as Quebecers have shown in many, many elections before, when public opinion shifts, it does so quickly and decisively.​