Reigning Champ or Waning Champ?

3 minute read

Canada’s federal party leaders will face off in a set of debates this week, and Justin Trudeau has the most to lose. The Prime Minister entered the election with victory looking like a sure thing, but frustration with the election call and a series of mishaps now mean that a Liberal government is no longer a foregone conclusion. A less than stellar performance by Mr. Trudeau — or one that comes off as too arrogant and presumptuous — may be the boost his opponents need as Canadians get set to cast their ballots. 

Counterintuitively, Trudeau also seems to be going into these debates with somewhat of a “comeback kid” vibe. As the previous front-running incumbent, now deadlocked in the polls, Trudeau’s political obituary has already been written by one too many pundits. He’s got a lot to gain from a strong, passionate, and authentic performance. This may be just what it takes to wrest back control of the narrative and make the case to voters that he remains the best choice for prime minister.

Here’s where Justin Trudeau is going to have to hit his rivals hardest in order to keep his job, and where he’ll need to muster up a stronger defence to avoid stumbling on national television. 

Platform Costing 

Trudeau’s biggest objective going into these debates? Convincing Canadians that his opponents aren’t the real deal. Whereas the Liberals took their time crafting a fully-costed election platform, the Conservatives and NDP rushed to drop theirs before the ink on the writ had time to dry. More than halfway through the campaign, neither of the major opposition parties has shared how much their plans will actually cost. This gives Trudeau the opportunity to blast his rivals for making lofty promises without bothering to back them up. 

Pandemic Handling

The pandemic may not be the top election issue for Canadians, but Trudeau could still benefit from promoting his government’s handling of COVID-19. The prime minister should use his time on the debate stage to send viewers a fairly simple message: “Liberals had your back when you needed it most.” And given that most Canadians are in favour of a vaccine passport, Trudeau would also be wise to hammer O’Toole on his softer approach to the subject, as well as pointing to fourth waves in conservative-led provinces, like Alberta and Saskatchewan, to scare those viewers from voting blue. 

Other “sword issues” for Trudeau: Childcare, healthcare, and gun control. 

Early Election Call 

During last week’s unofficial first debate, Mr. Trudeau’s opponents scored big points by repeatedly railing against his decision to call an early election amidst a fourth wave of the pandemic. And that line of attack is sure to haunt Trudeau throughout both upcoming debates, too. But with a majority of Canadians seemingly unhappy about their second election in two years, he’ll need to show up armed with a better excuse than “Canadians deserve a choice.” 

Climate Change

The NDP may not have a realistic shot of winning this time around, but the party still presents a major threat to Trudeau’s fortunes at the ballot box. Given their shared pursuit of progressive voters, a strong showing for Singh and co. could make the difference between a Liberal and Conservative government come election day. Their number one sticking point against Mr. Trudeau? Climate change. The Liberals are still seen as best on climate change, but the NDP has benefitted from arguing that when it comes to climate change, Trudeau is all talk. Swatting away Singh and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul’s attacks and showing viewers that he’s the only leader capable of addressing Canada’s climate crisis should be a top priority for Trudeau, particularly if he wants to win back some seats in his crucial home province of Québec — where pipelines are even less popular than the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Other “shield issues” for Trudeau: Canada’s evacuation of refugees from Afghanistan, Trudeau’s questionable foreign policy record, and his handling of sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces.

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