Here's what strategists say the Liberals, Tories and NDP need to do in Monday's debate
OTTAWA - On the eve of the first commissioned English-language debate, strategists and political insiders with the Liberal party, the Conservative party and the NDP are weighing in on what each respective leader will need to do on Monday night to come out strong.
The English debate, which will air live on Monday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. EDT from the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., will be the first time Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Bloq Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, and People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier go head-to-head.
Trudeau and May are the more veteran federal debaters among this pool, having both duked it out in the 2015 election.
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Appearing on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Rob Silver, a Liberal strategist and husband to Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief-of-staff, said the Liberal leader should be prepared for more pointed attacks, more fierce than what was dished out during the first French-language debate hosted by TVA last week.
"He’ll be attacked on the left and the right," said Silver. "You’ll have two candidates in Ms. May and Mr. Singh attacking from the left and then you have two on the right this time."
Silver said the Liberal leader needs to position himself more on the defensive, touting the party’s track record when he’s thrown strikes on the blackface controversy or the government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
"The key for him, when those attacks come, is to defend his record and to defend the government's record, to point out to voters who are watching who are accessible voters for the Liberals, the things they have accomplished."
From the Conservative standpoint, former campaign director for Stephen Harper, Jenni Byrne said Scheer’s main goal will be to "position himself as the opponent, the person that can beat Justin Trudeau in this election."
That might be more challenging with the presence of another right-wing politician on stage, Maxime Bernier, who she’s expecting will be focused on Scheer.
"He’s going to have to be careful not to get in the weeds or get in the mud with the other leadership candidates and position himself side-by-side with Justin Trudeau."
Following the TVA debate, Scheer remained mum on where he stood on social issues like abortion. He has since declared that he is in fact pro-life, but his personal views wouldn’t stop him from governing on behalf of all Canadians who hold different values.
To that end, Byrne said Scheer needs to be "very clear" on where he stands on these types of contentious matters.
"Andrew will probably be more comfortable, English being his first language, but I think he needs to be ready for those answers because if we’ve seen anything from this campaign it’s that not answering certain questions doesn’t make it go away."
Singh needs to keep "exceeding expectations" as former NDP MP Nathan Cullen put it on Sunday.
"That’s been one of Jagmeet’s advantages throughout the campaign, expectations were lower and he’s been exceeding them at a pretty regular clip," said Cullen. "I think distinguishing himself to those progressive voters who are now questioning Trudeau and whether he’s the progressive champion that he promised to be four years ago."
He added that the NDP leader shines brightest when he reflects back on personal stories he’s picked up on the campaign trail and grounds lofty policy issues into tactical to-dos.
"Jagmeet does well when he’s able to talk about for instance going to Grassy Narrows and talks about the reality of what Indigenous communities are facing as opposed to getting into the higher-minded, higher-level rhetoric."
Byrne said Singh would be remiss not to consider the force May will bring to the table, as one of the other far-left progressive champions gaining popularity.
"Jagmeet Singh is fighting, especially in British Columbia, with progressive voters on Elizabeth May’s side."
Latest Poll Numbers
New polling numbers published Sunday show Trudeau is making slight headway over his competitors, namely the Conservatives.
Polling data from Nanos Research shows Trudeau holding an eight-point advantage over Scheer as preferred prime minister, while the Liberals have a marginal lead in ballot support.
"It’s quite significant. You know in the first part of the campaign, Justin Trudeau was on the defensive and Andrew Scheer and him were tied as to who Canadians would prefer as prime minister, fast forward to the last week of the campaign and Andrew Scheer’s numbers have declined every day without exception," pollster Nik Nanos told CTV News.
The poll, which was commissioned by CTV News and The Globe and Mail, consisted of a three day rolling average that ended on Oct. 5.
If Trudeau wants to maintain his lead coming out of the debate, Nanos say he will need to avoid personal attacks.
"Trudeau has to get through the debate without more personal attacks. He needs to put a spotlight on Andrew Scheer as a potential lightning rod for voters, specifically women voters."
Nanos also expects Singh, May, Bernier, or Blanchet to deliver the "knock-out" punch in the deabte.
"It’s not going to be Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer because they’ve already thrown all their punches. Watch out for those other party leaders who are going to try to break through the clutter and talk about policy issues."
A national random telephone survey of 1,200 Canadians is conducted by Nanos Research throughout the campaign over a three day period. Each evening a new group of 400 eligible voters are interviewed. The daily tracking figures are based on a three-day rolling sample comprised of 1,200 interviews. To update the tracking a new day of interviewing is added and the oldest day dropped. The margin of error for a survey of 1,200 respondents is ±2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.