Calgary Sun

ON THE ROPES

Flailing in debate, Trudeau looks far from being able to lead anything

- >> BRIAN LILLEY,

There are rarely decisive moments in Canadian political debates, the idea of a knockout punch being something that lives larger in the minds of media pundits than it does in reality. With five leaders on the stage, the chance for that one moment that defines the debate and the campaign is unlikely to happen.

That was the case again on Thursday night in Gatineau, Que., just across the river from the Parliament Buildings. In reality, each leader had their own job to do in the one and only English debate and the question is did they deliver on what their respective campaign needed?

Justin Trudeau needed to come out and give progressiv­e voters a reason to vote for him. The Liberal leader started the campaign looking for a majority and is now fighting to try to save even a minority government with him at the helm.

On Thursday, Trudeau didn't look like a man in charge of his files. He looked like a leader grasping and gasping to get his points across but doing it badly.

Asked about his government's handling of the Two Michaels detained in China, he spoke of the Harper government lobbing tomatoes across the Pacific.

What does that even mean? On issues that Trudeau used to dominate, such as climate and reconcilia­tion, he sputtered and sputtered badly. At one point, he even tried to explain feminism to the only woman among the leaders, the Green party's Annamie Paul.

Erin O'toole may have been out in front — most polls now give him a slight lead over Trudeau — but he came into the debate still an unknown to many Canadians. He has exceeded the expectatio­ns set for him at the start of the campaign, surprising voters and pundits alike with his slow and steady approach.

During the debate, O'toole didn't sparkle or shine but he came across as competent, controlled and at times statesmanl­ike. O'toole took Trudeau to task, pointing out that he talks a good game but has never met a climate target and hasn't delivered for First Nations.

As for Jagmeet Singh, he has seen a rise in voter support at the expense of the Liberals and he came into this debate needing to give progressiv­e voters a reason to stay with him. In the last election, the NDP dropped down to 16% support but it's now polling near 20% in most polls.

In the end, Singh made the pitch and called Trudeau out on his hypocrisy. He sounded calmer and saner than Trudeau did, but we will need to wait and see if it resonates with voters.

The Greens' Paul has proven herself an intelligen­t and likable partisan. She held her own with the other leaders, but she is hamstrung by her own party. The Greens elected a Black Jewish woman as their leader and then disintegra­ted into a party whose executive leadership was upset that they were not anti-semitic or racist enough.

Paul would be an asset in Parliament. Her party should get out of the way and help her get into the House.

As for Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-francois Blanchet, most of the people watching couldn't vote for him if they wanted to. Still, Blanchet had some of the most biting comments on Trudeau's record, often leaving the Grit flat footed.

In the end, this was a match between Trudeau and O'toole, with Singh playing a supporting role with the hope of replacing Trudeau as the lead.

Trudeau didn't win, he sounded desperate. O'toole didn't lose, he sounded competent. Singh will keep nipping away at Trudeau's support — meaning look for a change in the polls.

We have 10 days of campaignin­g left. This debate won't turn things around for Trudeau's desire for a majority government.

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 ?? JUSTIN TANG/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Justin Trudeau, left, Jagmeet Singh and Erin O'toole take part in last night's debate in Gatineau, Que.
JUSTIN TANG/THE CANADIAN PRESS Justin Trudeau, left, Jagmeet Singh and Erin O'toole take part in last night's debate in Gatineau, Que.
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