The party leaders in the 2019 federal election were studying hard Thursday afternoon, brushing up on their policies and practicing their zingers ahead of the first leaders debate.
Well, not all of them. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has decided to skip the debate entirely and will attend only one English language debate before the Oct. 21 election. English Canada won’t get to see Trudeau tussle with his opponents until Oct. 7.
Tonight, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will be staring at an empty podium, as they look to get an edge on the absent Liberal leader.
Tonight’s debate will be moderated by Maclean’s writer Paul Wells and will cover four major issues: the economy, Indigenous issues, energy and the environment and foreign policy.
In this live story, we’ll be tracking and analyzing the debate as it happens.
9:45 p.m. — Singh thanks viewers “for sticking with us this long.” He says the NDP won’t be fighting “for the powerful” but for average Canadians.
9:43 p.m. — Scheer’s closing comments centre almost entirely on cost-of-living issues. Taxes, home heating and a government that “lives within its means.”
9:41 p.m. — In her closing comments, May asks voters to “give us a serious consideration” and recommends people check out the party’s platform.
9:36 p.m. — “I wear as a badge of honour that I am the only party leader currently banned from Russia,” says Scheer. May accuses Scheer of taking his ideas from Donald Trump, such as moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and Scheer says “that’s just false” but doubles down on his support for Israel.
9:30 p.m. — May blames Cambridge Analytica for Brexit and says it was a travesty of enormous proportions.
9:28 p.m. — May grins broadly as Wells asks Scheer about his tweet supporting Brexit. “My focus is on restoring Canada’s place in the world,” says Scheer. Doesn’t touch the question of whether he supports it or not.
9:25 p.m. — Scheer complains about how long it took to name a new ambassador to China. He says that when China starts “blocking our imports,” Canada needs to stand up for itself.
9:24 p.m. — May says that anyone who can confidently say what they want to do with China is “talking out of their hat.” These are complicated issues, she says.
9:22 p.m. — At the beginning of the final segment, Singh ticks off what he thinks are Trudeau’s failure on foreign policy: diplomacy with China, his trip to India and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
9:15 p.m. — During the break, notes from the beginning of the debate were issued. Before it kicked off, Elizabeth May walked up to the Trudeau’s empty podium and said “Good to see you,” while shaking hands with no one, reported CP reporter Allison Jones.
9:10 p.m. — Scheer looks a little bit taken aback as May reels off parts of his climate plan that she likes. But, “if you don’t have the right target you can’t make a plan that makes any sense,” said May. We are “hanging on to human civilization.”
9:08 p.m. — Scheer says his plan for the environment is the most comprehensive policy ever put forward by an opposition party. “The carbon tax is proven to fail,” says Scheer.
9:02 p.m. — The first major attack between Singh and May happens on abortion rights. “We have a solid position, unlike the Greens, on a woman’s right to choose,” says Singh, referencing a recent interview May did with CBC in which she said Green MPs would be able to vote their conscience on the issue. May later walked back that position after the interview aired. She calls the attack absurd and takes the argument back to climate change.
8:59 p.m. — On May’s plan to retrofit buildings, Wells notes that it’s an audacious plan that requires “working with Jason Kenney and Doug Ford.” May says it may be audacious but it’s also essential. She ticks off the risks from climate change and says, “yes, we can do this.”
8:53 p.m. — Wells asks Singh about his thoughts on the B.C. LNG project that he has previously panned. Singh won’t say for sure whether an NDP government or a minority government supported by the NDP would be opposed to it.
8:43 p.m. — Scheer says that under a Conservative government the director of public prosecutions will not see any interference on the decision about whether to prosecute SNC-Lavalin.
8:42 p.m. — Scheer demands that Trudeau waive cabinet confidence on the SNC-Lavalin affair and May doubles down on the Green idea for a public inquiry.
8:39 p.m. — May floats the idea of making SNC-Lavalin do “community service” by building infrastructure without making any profit on it. “It’s a bit ludicrous,” says Singh.
8:37 p.m. — Scheer wants to know what happens if a single First Nations community rejects the project. Does it get halted? For our Albertan readers, don’t fear: Wells says there’s a lot more questions on pipelines coming.
8:35 p.m. — “If you don’t have communities buying in, projects won’t go ahead,” says Singh, on the government’s “duty to consult” on major projects.
8:33 p.m. — Both Singh and Scheer are going after Trudeau for his comments to protesters from Grassy Narrows, who were angry about mercury poisoning in their community.
8:28 p.m. — May and Singh press Scheer on a recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision that concluded that Canada wilfully and recklessly discriminated against First Nations children. Singh says he’s “appalled that Mr. Scheer just couldn’t say ‘yes, we won’t appeal the decision.’”
8:26 p.m. — On Indigenous issues, Scheer gives a shout-out to National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, who in Scheer’s riding in Saskatchewan. Scheer says we need to end long-term boil water advisories and offer more natural resource opportunities for First Nations.
8:23 p.m. — Singh says he wants Quebecers to know that “you can believe in who you are, you can celebrate your identity.”
8:22 p.m. — On Quebec’s Bill 21, May says she wants to secure the rights of everyone in the province and floats the idea of giving jobs to people who lose them thanks to the new legislation. Scheer says he glad people are fighting the bill in the courts, but a Conservative government wouldn’t intervene.
8:21 p.m. — Scheer warns that program promises like this will just juice the country’s debt. On pharmacare, the government should be more worried about people who fall through the cracks, not “universal” programs, he says.
8:20 p.m. — Singh touts his party’s plan for universal pharmacare. May says she likes the idea, but her party was spooked by the $30 billion price tag they got from the parliamentary budget office. Singh says he’ll find revenue in offshore tax havens and other loopholes.
8:18 p.m. — “We can all sing Kumbaya and keep going,” says May, after an exchange ends with all the leaders agreeing that Trudeau’s Liberals have made life more expensive for Canadians.
8:16 p.m. — Singh is now comparing Scheer to Doug Ford’s Ontario government and says Scheer will offer similar budget cuts. That’s been a constant attack from Trudeau’s Liberals.
8:14 p.m. — May complains that Scheer never answered the question: What about a surprise? Scheer says he will balance the budget. May interjects and insists that the Green Party will not cut services if there’s a surprise in the balance sheet.
8:10 p.m. — Scheer is asked if there are circumstances in which he would have to embark on budget costs, like if he finds the finances in worse shape than is currently realized. He says his platform will be fully costed and he doesn’t expect to encounter those scenarios.
8:09 p.m. — This debate, so far, is a free-for-all squabble, with the leaders going back and forth and interrupting each other.
8:07 p.m. — Scheer briefly pans the policy, but turns immediately to a criticism of Trudeau’s fiscal management. Singh also goes straight to a jab at Trudeau.
8:05 p.m. — The debate starts off with a question to Elizabeth May about her party’s guaranteed minimum income plan. May says she see it as an investment and will save money in other areas, for example, in housing fewer prisoners in penitentiaries.
8:02 p.m. — “Now with 25 per cent fewer leaders,” says moderator Paul Wells as the debate begins. He says they left an empty podium in case Trudeau changes his mind.
7:04 p.m. — As crowds gather in Toronto for the debate, Liberal supporters are lining up to see Justin Trudeau in Edmonton. After that, Trudeau will head to Trois-Rivières, Quebec, where Andrew Scheer kicked off his campaign yesterday.
6:35 p.m. — As the leaders arrive for the debate, a group of People’s Party of Canada supporters have gathered outside to protest the lack of invitation for party leader Maxime Bernier.
5:17 p.m. — Not be outdone, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh shot a video on the debate stage, saying he was excited to get started, but annoyed that Trudeau wasn’t attending. “I’m really disappointed that Mr. Trudeau didn’t decide to show up. He’s not been there for Canadians for the past four years and now he’s not there today,” said Singh.
3:13 p.m. — Andrew Scheer took to Twitter to shame Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for skipping the debate tonight, posting a photo of the stage. “There are four podiums but only three leaders will show up. Trudeau keeps running away from his record instead of running on it,” Scheer tweeted.