The 2021 Federal Debate

The Debate Details

On Thursday, September 9, 2021, 5 of Canada’s federal party leaders came together in Gatineau, Quebec to engage in a live debate in preparation for the upcoming September 20th federal election. The debate was covered by CBC, ran from 9:00 to 11:00 pm, and was held in the Canadian Museum of History on the unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples.

In addition to English, the debate has been made available in:

  • French
  • Plains Cree
  • Dene
  • Inuktitut
  • Italian
  • Punjabi
  • American Sign Language (ASL)
  • LSQ (french sign language)
  • Arabic
  • Cantonese
  • Mandarin
  • Tagalong

The participants of the debate included Liberal Party leader and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, Green Party leader Annamie Paul, the NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and the Bloc Quebecois leader, Yves-François Blanchet (see below).

Figure 1 – Party Leaders

Before the debate, 20K Canadians had the opportunity to weigh in on what they wanted to hear from the leaders. From this, 5 themes emerged which led the debate. These 5 themes included:

  • Leadership & Accountability
  • Climate Change
  • Reconciliation
  • Affordability
  • COVID Recovery

Under these 5 themes, a series of questions were posed by the moderator, journalists asked to participate, and a handful of Canadians had the opportunity to pose a specific question to the candidates.

How Each Candidate Faired

Trudeau: Throughout the 2-hour debate, many of the candidates chose to spend their time putting down Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government’s work during his time in office, blaming him for many of the country’s failures and hardships. This had Trudeau speaking in a defensive and somewhat frantic manner for the majority of the debate, speaking over the other candidates and getting chastised more than once for speaking out of turn.

Paul: Unlike Justin Trudeau, Green Party leader Annamie Paul remained cool and collected throughout the entirety of the 2-hour debate. She spent the majority of the debate waiting silently for her turn to speak, while the other party leaders yelled over one another, hurling criticisms and failing to get their points across.

O’Toole: Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole managed to speak eloquently and came across as the most progressive Conservative candidate to come along in a long time – if ever. However, during the debate, O’Toole was met with significant doubts regarding the cohesion of the Conservative Party and whether the other candidates and party members underneath him are willing to adopt the progressive ideals he is currently toting.

Singh: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has always been an excellent speaker, and this debate should have been no different. While he managed to make a handful of important points, he spent far too much of his time attacking the Liberal Party and its leader, rather than discussing his own merits.

Blanchet: The Bloc Quebeçois leader, Yves-François Blanchet, is a rather blunt individual who stated at essentially the beginning of this debate “I am not interested in leading Canada.”

Important Takeaways

It would take way too long for us to go over the entire 2-hour debate, so instead, we’ve put together some important questions, answers and comments from the debate.

Theme 1: Leadership & Accountability

One of the first questions asked in this debate was directed at Yves-François Blanchet, asking the leader about the systemic racism in the province:

After this, the issue of the incident in Kabul was raised, with the moderator asking Party leaders what they would have done in this situation had they been in charge. Instead of detailing what each Leader would have done, the majority of the time spent on this subject was spent criticizing the job done by Trudeau. Primarily, these criticisms revolved around Trudeau calling for this election when the incident in Kabul was going on, instead of ensuring the safety of Canadians and our allies.

The next major issue raised revolved around how each candidate would move forward in their decision-making and partnership choices with China based on issues with human rights and technological advancement. In this area, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was quite vocal.

Theme 2: Climate Change

While there was a lot of discussion surrounding climate change, but the most important takeaway from this section was Annamie Paul’s arguments for bipartisan work on tackling climate change. While the other leaders argued with one another, constantly interrupting and criticizing one another, Paul stood by silently, ignoring all prompts for a fight, waiting for her turn to speak. When she did speak, she spoke not for her Party or herself, but for everyone. While she was unable to get much out due to the arguing occurring around her, she voiced the need for the creation of a bipartisan group, similar to the one created for the pandemic, to work together on tackling the climate crisis – without Party politics getting in the way.

Theme 3: Reconciliation

During the time dedicated to this theme, 2 very important topics were discussed. First, 18-year-old Marek McLeod, Ojibway member from Sault Ste. Marie was invited to ask a question to the debate participants. The question and its answer provided by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was as follows:

The second crucial point of discussion revolved around the phenomenon of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children in our country. Unfortunately, this topic was handled poorly by the candidates, with both Trudeau and O’Toole spending their allotted time arguing about irrelevant issues. However, this question was posed to Trudeau, O’Toole, and Paul. When their time was almost up, Paul interjected and stated the following:

Theme 4: Affordability

With housing in Canada at an all-time high, seniors working past the age of 75, people having to choose between buying food and medication, and childcare, affordability is a worry at the forefront of many Canadian minds. While each party has their own platform regarding plans for housing and more, Green Party leader Annamie Paul said it best during the debate:

Theme 5: COVID Recovery

The last theme, COVID recovery, is a big one as much of Canada is currently experiencing a 4th wave. While each Party has a vastly different planned approach when it comes to the recovery of Canada, the debate made one thing abundantly clear: the resources currently being provided and the candidates’ plans to provide to our healthcare system, are severely lacking. Whether it pertains to the condition of long-term care homes, access to medical care, or the affordability of medications, the federal government is not providing the provinces with what they need to improve.


If you are interested in learning more before the upcoming September 20th election, see our article titled A Breakdown of the 2021 Federal Election, or view the 2-hour debate online, here. Most importantly, don’t forget to go out and vote!

Interested in reading more political pieces from The Switch? See here.

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