The Energy East Pipeline was the most prominent environmental issue in the first French language leaders debate. Stephen Harper was criticized by the other leaders for his government’s failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. On September 24, 2015, the leaders vying for Prime Minister of Canada held a French language leaders debate in Montreal, Quebec. This debate is important because there are 78 seats in Quebec out of 338 up for grabs in the House of Commons. In addition to the seven million French speakers in Quebec there are one million French speakers outside of the province.
For the first time the gang of three (Thomas Mulcair, NDP, Justin Trudea, Liberal, and Stephen Harper) will be joined by two others, Green leader Elizabeth May and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.
Quebec has proven itself to be very fickle in recent years. After a couple of decades of ardent support for the Liberal Party of Canada, Quebecers switched to the Bloc Quebcois and most recently (2011) the NDP won 58 seats in the province.
The NDP is expected to retain their support in the October 19th federal election. According to an Ekos poll at the end of August the NDP has more than double the support of the Liberals who are their nearest rivals. However, the most recent polls suggest the NDP’s support is slipping.
While Harper is the main advocate of Energy East Pipeline, both Trudeau and Mulcair seem to support the prime minister’s pipe-dream. The only two parties that clearly oppose the pipeline are the Green Party and the Bloc.
Duceppe attacked Trudeau for not opposing the Energy East pipeline while Harper accused his rivals of not being in favour of replacing foreign oil with Canadian oil.
The niqab was a major issue in the debate. Mr Mulcair said, that “Mr. Harper is trying to hide his record behind a niqab,” while Mr. Trudeau said, “We all know why we’re talking about this. It’s because Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe want to play on fear and division.”
Ms. May had one of the best lines of the night when she said, “What is the impact of the niqab on the economy? What is the impact of the niqab on climate change? What is the impact of the niqab on the jobless? It is a false debate meant as distraction from the real challenges for Canada.”
The Bloc has not gained the traction it had hoped by trying to build its support around zenophobia, particularly as it concerns Moslem women’s right to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies. The Bloc closer to the Conservatives on this issue than any of the other parties.
However, Duceppe was quick to try to distance himself from the prime minister.
Duceppe stole the Green Party’s thunder by going after leaders who support the fossil fuels. “Mr. Harper put everything on oil,” Duceppe said. “His economic plan rests on oil, essentially, with the consequences we see now.” Duceppe accused Mulcair of supporting oil sands development when he is speaking in English, and hiding that support when he is speaking French.
Trudeau went after Mulcair for allegedly suggesting that Canada should export water to the US. “We’re speaking of oil today, but in the years to come there’s a lot of concerns surrounding exporting water.” Trudeau said. “Mr. Mulcair likes to talk about the fact that he was the environment minister here in Quebec. But as minister he was proposing exporting bulk water to the United States. I’d like to know: why would even think of doing that?”
As the front runner in Quebec Mr. Mulcair took the brunt of the attacks during the debate. In response the NDP chief said, “We have to unite behind a single objective, and that is to have a progressive government and get rid of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. That is my priority.”
A second French-language debate is scheduled October 2, and some French will be heard during the Munk Debate, September 28.