Pipeline politics loom large in final scheduled federal leaders’ debate

Pipeline politics loom large in final scheduled federal leaders’ debate

Digital rights, costs for seniors and Canada’s trade with China also came up – but debate kept going back to pipeline

The political weight attached to whether and where to build pipelines in Canada came through clearly Thursday night in a French-language leaders’ debate that also saw the leaders of the three main federal parties seeking to curb the rise of the Bloc Quebecois.

The spirited two-hour contest marked a milestone for the federal election: it’s the final time the six federal party leaders faced Canadians before advance polls open Friday and with them, the countdown to the Oct. 21 election day begins in earnest.

The leaders argued over a wide range of subjects that had yet to be tackled in detail so far in the campaign, including digital rights, costs for seniors and Canada’s trade with China.

But it was pipelines that kept coming up, so often that moderator Patrice Roy, a Radio-Canada host, even chided the leaders for bringing them up in a segment that was focused on immigration.

The politics of building them loom large in Quebec, along with the battle against climate change, and all the leaders on stage Thursday were to some degree fighting for their political lives in a province whose voters can decide whether a party wins a majority government.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green party Leader Elizabeth May used Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s decision to nationalize the Trans Mountain pipeline as a cudgel to repeatedly whack down any further pledges his party might make on the environment. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves Blanchet also used it as a proxy — how could the Liberals afford that, but not money for Indigenous children, he wondered.

Those three, plus Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, did repeatedly gang up on Trudeau, though he was most often placed on the defensive by Scheer, who rarely missed a chance to pivot an answer into an attack on the Liberal’s record.

The duo repeatedly accused each other of being ridiculous or engaging in half-truths, including on the costings of their respective platforms. The Liberals have not included the price tags for significant elements of theirs, while the Conservatives’ full costing is expected to only be made public on Friday.

But Blanchet often found himself in the crossfire as well; polls suggest his party is growing its support in Quebec and the other leaders he shared a stage with on Thursday are losing support as a result.

Trudeau suggested Blanchet’s idea for an equalization payment plan linked to environmental goals wouldn’t work without a federal government that had national support to implement it. The last time the Bloc was strong they didn’t manage to advance their agenda, this time will be no different, Trudeau said.

“What is clear is that Quebecers want to be part of the action, not part of the Opposition,” he said to reporters after the debate.

Scheer tried to paint Blanchet as a separatist, accusing him of “hiding his true intentions” to make a plan with the separatist Parti Quebecois immediately after the election to revive the sovereigntist movement.

Blanchet later said he took the attacks as a compliment.

READ MORE: Tories to release platform on Friday, Singh sets terms for NDP minority support

Scheer’s conservatism was also attacked from the other direction by Bernier, who attempted to paint his former Conservative party colleague as simply another version of the Liberals. Positioning his own party as far more conservative than the one he left has been a key strategy for Bernier.

“Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer have the same stance on climate change,” he alleged, before further attacking one pillar of Scheer’s approach to address emissions abroad.

Trudeau cast Scheer and Bernier as the climate-change outliers, saying there were only ”four of us here who will fight to protect the environment.”

May was making her French-language debate debut in the current campaign. The previous French debate, hosted by television network TVA, excluded her.

May said another hot-button issue in Quebec, a bill that forbids the wearing of symbols of faith by some of the province’s public servants, should not get as much attention during this campaign as it has.

“We have talked more about that than the climate crisis, and that worries me.”

She stressed her party’s credentials, returning to her familiar refrain that climate change needs more urgent action because “our house is on fire.” And she echoed Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg early, saying the other leaders don’t take the issue seriously enough — “How dare you?” she demanded.

But she faced grilling over how she’d pay for her climate plans.

Another contentious issue in Quebec, a proposed “values test” for immigrants, was also part of the debate, with Trudeau suggesting the idea was appropriate as it’s up to Quebec to decide what questions to ask people who wish to settle there.

Thursday night’s French debate got off to a much less frantic start than the officially sanctioned English debate on Monday, also at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.

Monday’s two-hour contest in English included lengthy bouts of crosstalk and mudslinging and several leaders had complained the format didn’t allow enough time to get their points across.

After Thursday’s event, Scheer said he still thought there hadn’t been enough time for him and Trudeau superficially to go head-to-head.

Polls have suggested the two previous televised debates gave a boost to the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, but didn’t move the needle for the front-running Liberals or Conservatives.

The NDP’s continued loss of support in a province that once handed them official Opposition status is a continued sore point for Singh. Earlier Thursday he had shrugged off the fact the Bloc Quebecois is picking up some of those voters, and during the debate he directly hit at Blanchet’s assertion that Quebecers must vote for the Bloc to protect their interests.

“You have no monopoly over Quebec,” he said.

Meanwhile, Scheer was widely considered to have taken the hardest hit in Quebec after the previous French-language debate, and though his aides had been bullish on Tory chances in the province, they’ve now dialled back that enthusiasm.

Thursday’s debate featured five themes: economy and finances, environment and energy, foreign policy and immigration, identity ethics and governance and services to citizens.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Helping Hands of Terrace sorting facility was completed in November 2020. Phase two added a second shipping container and a roof, meaning that multiple people can sort recyclables at one time. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
VIDEO: Inside Helping Hands of Terrace’s sorting facility

Phase two of the facility was completed late last year

Kitselas Administration office. (Kitselas First Nation website photo)
Kitselas First Nation candidates announced for June 10 election

Over three dozen candidates vying for position of one chief councillor and six council members

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

The road to Telegraph Creek (Hwy 51) was closed April 15 due to a washout. On May 4, the road was opened to light-duty passenger vehicles during specific times. (BC Transportation and Infrastructure/Facebook)
Telegraph Creek Road opens for light-duty vehicles

Road has been closed since April 15 due to a washout

Crew works on the Howe Creek Trail broad walk near the northeast corner of Christy Park.
Howe Creek Trail repair work under progress

Residents asked to avoid using trail near the northeast corner of Christy Park

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Mary Kitagawa was born on Salt Spring Island and was seven years old when she was interned along with 22,000 B.C. residents in 1942. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds health services for survivors of Japanese internment

Seniors describe legacy of World War II displacement

Meghan Gilley, a 35-year-old emergency room doctor and new mom was vaccinated from COVID-19 in January, while she was pregnant. She’s encouraging others to do the same. (Submitted)
‘The best decision’: B.C. mom encourages other pregnant women to get COVID-19 shot

Meghan Gilley, 35, delivered a healthy baby after being vaccinated against the virus while pregnant

Most Read