French-language debate pits passion over reason
Harper, Duceppe hit hot-button issues such as banning niqabs, but will it swing votes?
It was a tough night for reason in its age-old battle against passion, as five political leaders faced off on stage in the French-language debate in Montreal.
Veiled women, the Senate, ISIS — all topics heavy with nuance and complexity — but for which the majority of Canadians see simple solutions: Muslim women should dress like everyone else and bombs ought to be dropped on the other two.
- Niqab, Senate, national unity trigger hot exchanges in French-language debate
- French-language leaders' debate: 5 feisty exchanges
- VIDEO | At Issue panel weighs in on French-language leaders' debate
- Vote Compass: Who won the French-language debate?
Citizenship and Immigration Canada acknowledges the issue of wearing a veil during a citizenship ceremony is one that affects a "minuscule" number of women. Yet how important was the niqab in last night's debate?
It led to Gilles Duceppe, leader of the sovereignist Bloc Québécois, calling for tougher laws to protect Canadian citizenship ceremonies — and no one was reaching for the smelling salts.
The niqab was at the heart of by far the most heated exchange of any of the debates so far. Fingers jabbed in the air, voices were raised, women's rights and daughters were invoked.
In the fray, questions were raised about why the federal government is setting a dress code for only certain women from one religion.
Some have tried to square the circle of defending a woman's rights by denying her citizenship.
But the people — it seems — have spoken, as suggested by a public-opinion poll ordered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier this year that found overwhelming support among Canadians for the requirement that women remove their niqabs or burqas at citizenship ceremonies.
So it's no mistake both Duceppe and Harper leapt with gusto on this question — and then even circled back to it in their closing statements.
The other leaders, who oppose the ban, let the issue drop after the initial segment was done.
Beating up the Senate
Similarly, a dispassionate observer could be forgiven for believing Duceppe single-handedly left NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's plea for Senate abolishing in tatters.
- Bloc Québécois targets NDP over niqabs, pipelines in controversial new ad
- Tom Mulcair's Senate pledge could lead to stalemates and standoffs
- ISIS mission: Comparing leaders' positions on military involvement
After Mulcair reiterated that he's seeking a mandate from Canadian voters to sit down with the provinces and get their necessary unanimous support to abolish what Mulcair deemed a "relic" of "our British traditions."
Why stop there, Duceppe asked. The Bloc leader called the monarchy another obsolete relic that ought to be abolished at the same time a Mulcair government were to open up the Constitution to do away with the Red Chamber.
So, to follow Duceppe's logic: Getting rid of the Senate requires unanimous support of the provinces; getting the support of Quebec, its longstanding issues would have to be addressed first — and that may include severing ties with Britain's monarchy — which, in turn, would completely change the way our system works.
A few years ago, the thought of re-opening the Constitution would turn most Canadians' stomach. But now, it seems after years of scandal, whichever candidate promises to treat the Senate as badly as possible might just have an edge.
The other part of appealing to emotions and passions is through performance, and on that front, the scores are very different:
Duceppe spent a lot of time demanding what the other parties might do on particular issues without offering many solutions. A casual observer of politics could have mistaken him for one of the moderators at times.
The first mention of Quebec sovereignty came a little more than an hour into the debate; no mention of it was made in Duceppe's closing statement.
Which raises the question: What does the Bloc stand for any more?
One couldn't help shake the feeling Harper really didn't want to be there. Other than the animated segment on the niqab, the Conservative leader held back most of the night.
His party comes into this election with five seats in Quebec. It's unlikely anything that happened in this debate will change that by much.
Some observers in the English media quickly pronounced that "Angry Tom" made an appearance last night. While not entirely false, it's also not entirely fair either.
Let's face it, French is spoken not just with different words but a different style, as well. Especially in Quebec, and especially when you're talking politics, a big voice and finger jabs in the air are used to show you care.
Mulcair did what he needed to do in this debate and was helped by the fact the Bloc failed to present a reason for Quebecers to swing back their way.
Justin Trudeau's performance was similar to that of his previous debate appearances, although a little more restrained.
He tried hard to knock Mulcair off of his game to present his party as the best alternative to the Conservatives — but little seemed to stick.
Those who went in disliking Trudeau probably still found him a little too chippy. Those who worry he is "just not ready," as the Conservative ads have said over and over, will likely keep watching him and wondering.
Considering Elizabeth May is the least strong in French of anyone else on stage, she did her best. She made her points, strong as they usually are but not with the eloquence she has in her first language.
It took more than half a century for the NDP to make its breakthrough in Quebec, so the Greens likely have a way to go yet.
One of the advantages of the extra-long campaign is the fact there is time for more than one leaders' debate in English and one in French.
Voters have so far had three opportunities to see for themselves what each leader is presenting — and there are two more debates to come.