The Ferocious Five Leaders Face off On Student Issues

By Callan Stewart, Staff writer

Tensions ran high in the only English-language party-leader debate that took place on Thursday night. The front-running Conservative candidate Erin O’Toole and the incumbent Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took center stage and exchanged jabs in a rivalry reminiscent of that of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. The two had no shortage of words for each other, something which was seen especially in the number of times that they talked over each other, a fact which made for many unintelligible responses in the open debate. Also, present on Thursday were  Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet, Green Party leader Annamie Paul, and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, all of whom, in spite of lagging behind the Liberals and Conservatives, matched the intensity of the two front-runner candidates. Each party was able to successfully communicate their platform on a wide array of issues; including many which feature on the top of students’ minds in these times of great crises. 

Image source: Erin O’Toole, and Chris Young

Starting with climate change, one question from an audience member was regarding an issue that many students face, affording environmentally friendly technology. Paul preached the importance of environmental protection, while also promising to incentivize electric car purchases and retrofit homes to be environmentally friendly. Singh, in turn, pledged to divert the Liberal’s $900 million in subsidies to oil and gas into green technology. O’Toole meanwhile promised to reevaluate Canada’s Carbon pricing strategy to reflect Paris Accord targets, as well as a program to allow Canadians to track their carbon usage more effectively. On the other hand, Blanchet capped oil and gas production, eliminating their subsidies completely, and giving the money thus saved to Alberta to diversify their oil-reliant economy. The incumbent Trudeau preferred to largely maintain his government’s current climate plan but wished to further cap production from oil sands and other sources of emission. The topic of climate change led to an intense standoff between party leaders. Trudeau claimed that the Conservative platform cuts $2 billion from the climate target, to which O’Toole rebutted that the Liberal government has never set a climate target; when Trudeau touted his achievements on climate, Singh promptly retorted that emissions are higher than they were under Harper, who had a notable laxer policy. Similar strings of contradictions were present throughout the debate. 

Another issue at the front of students’ minds that was covered extensively during the debate was affordability. O’Toole has proposed a GST holiday in the month of December to allow Canadians to save five percent on each purchase in that time. He also proposed lowering inflation which would decrease the cost of housing, groceries, and the general cost of living. Singh, on the other hand, pledged to address the housing crisis, putting the ability of young people to afford homes over older generations to retain wealth through real estate, and a cheaper rental market. Singh also promised to incorporate dental care and mental health care into our universal healthcare system. Meanwhile, both Paul and Blanchet promised to bolster social housing, and Trudeau reiterated his $10 per day affordable childcare plan. 

Other topics covered during the debate were COVID-19 recovery, indigenous reconciliation, and leadership skills. These other categories of the debate were also not short of contentiousness. When debating about COVID-19 recovery, Trudeau was grilled by the other four party leaders on his decision to hold a pandemic election; Trudeau insisted that an election was safe and necessary despite the current circumstances. Trudeau was also put on the defensive on Indigenous reconciliation with Singh stating to Trudeau he cannot “take a knee one day and be taking indigenous kids to court the next.” O’Toole was similarly put on the defensive by his party’s rejection of recognizing climate change and vaccine skepticism. Each party leader, however, did acknowledge the importance of these issues facing Canadians and put forward their best solutions.
With the five party leaders going head to head, one may ask- but hey, who won the debate?– as for that question, only time will tell when the polls close on Monday, September 20th. However, in a pandemic election during the surge of a fourth wave, it is certain that Canadians are not the winners today. As each leader took the stage and explained their plans for our reeling nation, one sobering fact was made abundantly clear: among the five parties who will soon work together to govern this country we call home, there is almost no agreement.

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