Leaders find little to agree on in heated English-language debate

Pipelines, taxes, environment and economy featured heavily as six federal leaders sparred on stage Monday.

Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau rehashed old debates and talking points while Jagmeet Singh presented his party as an alternative to the two of them and the three other leaders on stage tried to set themselves apart during the official English language debate Monday night.

Trudeau and Scheer often sparred, with the leaders spending much of their time aiming attacks at each other. In fact, when Scheer was given a chance to ask any question of any leader, he turned to face Trudeau directly.

Trudeau was standing at the podium immediately to Scheer’s right. At one point, as they argued, Singh interjected.

“You do not need to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny,” he said, to laughter from the crowd, adding at another point that the pair were arguing who was worse for Canada.

Trudeau attacked the record of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and compared Scheer to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

He also took aim at “Jason Kenney, Doug Ford and other conservative premiers” he said refuse to do anything on climate change.

Climate change and pipelines were two of the main issues that leaders kept coming back to in the early portion of the debate, with even a section that was supposed to be designated to Indigenous issues devolving into a debate on national energy policy.

Both People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet used a question about what consent looks like in terms of building pipelines through Indigenous territories to bring up Quebec sovereignty.

The question was directed at Andrew Scheer from the Toronto Star’s Susan DelacourtLeaders find little to agree on in heated English-language debate. Scheer has promised to create a national energy corridor that will allow projects such as pipelines to be built from coast to coast.

‘As someone who has 12 First Nations reserves in his riding, I understand the importance of balancing treaty rights … and participation.”

Scheer said he will ensure that his plan takes into account Indigenous concerns and that he will create a cabinet minister position responsible for consultation.

“We will ensure it is dynamic, more than just ticking a box and listening to concerns. We have to get to the place where big things are built again.”

Scheer blamed Trudeau for failing to properly consult. Green Party leader Elizabeth May took exception.

“I am appalled by the fact that Mr. Scheer has forgotten that there was a duty to consult (that Harper failed as well),” she said. “It does not mean we will consult with them until they agree with us.”

Scheer said dozens of Indigenous communities want pipelines to go forward. He also accused the other parties on the stage of failing to define what informed, freely-given prior consent means when it comes to building major projects. That issue of consent is a reason Scheer has declined to fully endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He believes it is too vague and could hurt Canada’s ability to build major projects.

“We’re talking about addressing the environmental concerns and Indigenous concerns where there is a space where projects can be built.”

Trudeau attacked Scheer for this viewpoint.

“You’re putting forward exactly the same plan (as Stephen Harper) that didn’t just fail Indigenous communities, that also failed to get projects built,” he said.

Scheer retorted by accusing Trudeau of firing the first Indigenous attorney general “for doing her job.”

At that point, Singh chimed in.

He brought up a recent decision by the government to appeal a Human Rights Tribunal decision that found the Canadian government “willfully and recklessly discriminated” against Indigenous Kids. Appealing the decision “is wrong,” Singh said.

This time, it was Scheer’s turn to defend the government.

“This decision will have massive ramifications … and is a large significant settlement amount, it is legitimate to have a judicial review,” he said.

Singh countered that his government wouldn’t have challenged the ruling and that he would implement all recommendations that have been released in recent years.

Parties spar on tax plans, national unity

A war of words erupted, with multiple leaders talking over each other when Singh challenged Trudeau on his government’s promises to make life more affordable.

He compared Trudeau to Harper, accusing him of cutting taxes to the wealthy and failing to achieve climate change targets.

Trudeau responded that his government is three-quarters of the way to its 2030 climate targets and will continue to do more. He also argued that his movement cut taxes to the middle class and raised those on the top one per cent. He then accused Scheer of plotting to reopen tax loopholes and of promising to rip up “the only Climate change plan Canada has ever had.”

Scheer took exception.

“You called small business owners tax cheats, all the while protecting your trust funds,” he said.

The two began arguing over each other.

Bernier chimed in.

“Everyone here on this stage is spending more money,” he said. “You cannot create wealth when the government is spending money.”

Other leaders turned to the climate change plan.

May called Trudeau’s target one for losing the “fight against climate change.” Bernier said May’s plan would “destroy the economy.”

Singh, May and Bernier, at separate points, promised to end subsidies to oil and gas producers — though for different reasons.

Trudeau interjected.

“Of the plans put forward here on this stage, there is only one plan that is ambitious and doable,” he said.

Scheer countered. “Mr. Trudeau’s plan is failing,” he said,” adding that Trudeau has granted exemptions for the largest polluters.

‘That is not true, Mr. Scheer,” Trudeau said.

They began to talk over each other once again.

Fittingly, the next topic was on polarization, immigration and human rights.

It started with a question about Quebec’s Bill 21, which prohibits public officials, including teachers, nurses and other government employees, from wearing religious symbols to work.

Singh said he is obviously against” Bill 21, and that it “hurts me, makes me feel sad.”

He didn’t commit to fighting it should his party win power.

Scheer, too said the Conservative party “always stands for individual liberty” but added he also would not intervene in the court case.

Singh countered by saying people are being pitted against each other and being told that it is newcomers’ faults. That’s why, he said, it’s important to address poverty. He said the best way to rebuild unity and trust is to ensure large corporations pay their fair share to help everyday Canadians get by.

Blanchet, the Bloc leader, had a different take. He rejected the argument that Bill 21 was polarizing.

“Quebec does not have to be told what to do about their own values.”

Trudeau, meanwhile, went after Singh for not challenging Bill 21.

“Yes, it’s awkward politically,  he said, “because it’s very popular. Yes, a federal government might have to intervene because a federal government has to protect minority rights across the country.

“Every single day of my life is fighting … Bill 21,” Singh said.

Bernier interjected. He said the government must respect the constitution and not interfere. He then turned his attention to Singh.

“You said you didn’t want me here on the stage,” he said. “What about diversity of opinion? I have the right to have another opinion on immigration.”

Singh said Bernier’s comments from earlier in the evening show why he shouldn’t have been allowed to debate.

He accused Bernier of inciting hate and division and insulting a young girl.

“You don’t deserve a platform,” Singh said. “Your ideas are hurtful in Canada.”

Singh said divisions are growing because of radicalization and hateful discourse.

“But the other reason people are exploited into hating each other is because they’re worried for the future,” he said. “It’s neglect of people.” If people get the things they need, they won’t be as likely to hate others, he concluded.

Scheer accused Trudeau of sewing division through using hateful language. May, meanwhile, said the electoral system of first past the post is to blame, as it turns politics into “warring parties.”

Trudeau, meanwhile, said polarization comes from the “politics of fear and division.”

Bernier’s solution to polarization was accepting fewer immigrants.