Official debates now at Max capacity

Politics Insider for Sept. 17: Bernier invited to debates, Trudeau ‘supports’ the CBC and the Liberals and Conservatives fight over who’s got more Faith

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Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

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Bernier makes the cut: After initially being sidelined from participating in the two debates set up by the Trudeau government’s election debates commission, the commission chair and former governor general David Johnston invited Maxime Bernier to take part in the English and French debates scheduled for Oct. 7 and Oct. 10. “You have satisfied me that you intend to field candidates in 90 per cent of ridings and, based on recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results, I consider that more than one candidate of your party has a legitimate chance to be elected,” Johnston wrote, noting that he asked polling firm EKOS Research to conduct polls in four ridings the People’s Party of Canada identified as possible seats they could win, and determined the party had a “reasonable” chance of winning in them. (CBC News)

Jagmeet Singh wasn’t thrilled: “I think it’s wrong to give Mr. Bernier the platform to spread his hateful and divisive message.” But Andrew Scheer has far more to lose, given Bernier is campaigning as the true voice of Canada’s conservative movement, and Team Scheer dug into its conspiracy tickle trunk to claim it was all a Liberal fix to help Trudeau: “It’s no big surprise that Justin Trudeau‘s hand-picked debate panel used a Liberal-friendly pollster who attacks Andrew Scheer to ultimately justify Mr. Bernier’s attendance at the debate.”

However much Scheer might not like it, Johnston’s decision was the right one, writes Stephen Maher. But drawing on the experience of Canada’s first ever televised leaders debate in 1968, in which a fringe candidate was allowed to join the event late, Maher argues that Bernier should not be given equal airtime in the debates to Trudeau and Scheer:

With 45 minutes left, the organizers brought in Réal Caouette, leader of Ralliement Créditiste, a Quebec party with nine seats in the House.

Caouette, whose party has since disappeared, was a social conservative and advocate for quirky theories about monetary policy, occupying a similar position in the political landscape as Maxime Bernier’s Peoples Party does today.

It seems to me that the organizers of that first debate were right to invite Mr. Caouette and also right to give him less time than the other leaders, and the consortium of nine media outlets putting together two debates in this campaign would be wise to consider the precedent. (Maclean’s)

Promises, promises: Among the campaign pledges on offer Monday, Trudeau (who finally got around to answering reporters’ questions, and provided some “support” to the CBC by buying one of its reporters poutine) used his visit to Waterloo, Ont. to plunge into provincial jurisdiction with a $535-million a year promise to fund before- and after-school programs; Scheer traveled back in time to the Harper era with a promise to revive his old boss’s $1,000-per-child arts and sports boutique tax credits; and Elizabeth May rolled out the full Green Party platform with pledges to cut GHG emissions to 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, ban fracking and new pipelines, eliminate post-secondary tuition and bring in a guaranteed income.

Check out the Maclean’s election platform guide for more details.

Losing faith: Because apparently the Liberals and Conservatives have nothing better to argue about, Monday saw the parties trading barbs over which has closer ties to white supremacist Faith Goldy. The Liberals kicked things off over the weekend by releasing a 2013 video featuring Conservative candidate Justina McCaffrey and Goldy together. Then Goldy teased in a tweet that “only one” federal leader had bought her drinks at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier hotel, without mentioning who. Her tweet would have been a completely non-event, except that the Conservatives challenged the Liberals on Twitter to “fact check this one for us” and then Scheer himself got up before reporters and said he looks forward to Trudeau’s response to “allegations that he took Faith Goldy out for drinks.” The Liberals denied Trudeau has ever had drinks with her but said if he “were to talk to her we’d tell her to stop saying racist and hateful things. We encourage Andrew Scheer to do the same.”

Summed up, the exasperated, out-of-focus soccer player over Scheer’s right shoulder is all of us right now.

A non-debate: It’s time to retire the mythical abortion debate, writes Anne Kingston. It’s a waste of time and ignores the larger sweep of social conservative policies promoted by anti-abortion groups:

If only we could all end it there. And, with it, retire the term “abortion debate” from the lexicon of Election 43. Who’s debating abortion? The courts? The Canadian Medical Association? No on both counts. And certainly not party leaders. They’re falling over one another to say they won’t reopen a “debate” that has been closed legally and politically since 1988. That’s the year the Supreme Court of Canada declared an abortion provision in the Criminal Code was unconstitutional; the ruling decriminalized abortion, which is now treated like any other reproductive health care procedure. As such, the provinces and territories determine literal access to abortion, a procedure that remains difficult for some Canadian women to access.

The fact abortion isn’t featured on any federal party platform, however, doesn’t mean that the “abortion debate” hasn’t been politically weaponized and codified. (Maclean’s)

Volunteer-o-matic: When is a live agent not so live? When the phone call comes from a Conservative Party worker, who’s likely parked at a keyboard playing pre-recorded messages of someone else’s voice. Stephen Maher takes a look at the technology and the company behind it that was deployed by conservative parties in the Alberta and Ontario elections and now the federal campaign too. It’s a technology the Liberals abandoned at the last minute this year. Maybe to avoid awkward stories like that of an NDP volunteer during the Alberta election who shared a recording of his conversation with a United Conservative Party “live agent” in which he tried to get the voice on the other end of the line to go off script:

“Ha ha ha. I am a live agent but I just used scripted responses to ensure the information I provide is accurate and for quality assurance.”

“Can you say carrot?”

“Ha ha ha.”

Don’t read all about it: Andrew MacDougall, who served as Stephen Harper’s comms director, argues at that while Andrew Scheer unveiled the biggest policy announcement to date over the weekend with his “universal tax credit,” you’d never know it even happened judging by the Canadian political media’s coverage so far.

A free and independent press exists to query the policies of the powerful. They’re there to surface scandal and hold people to account. They’re there to ask the hard questions us ordinary folk can’t sneak past our politicians’ Praetorian Guard during a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ or Facebook Live session.

And right now that free and independent press isn’t doing its job. (Maclean’s)

Is the economy hot or not? A lot comes down to perception, and that presents a challenge for Liberals crafting their re-election pitch, writes Shannon Proudfoot in the latest print edition of Maclean’s:

There is a central conundrum here, says Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute: Canadian economic indicators are strong, but many people still feel that they can’t get ahead or are being left behind. The election is shaping up largely as a battle between the Liberals and Conservatives, and Justin Trudeau’s incumbent party has a tricky needle to thread in their campaign messaging. “It is . . . We’re doing well, but we also recognize that a lot of people are not doing well, and we are going to continue with policies that make life more affordable, that make life easier, that take the stress out of worrying about where your own personal account balance is,” Kurl says. The Liberals will point to initiatives such as the Canada Child Benefit and play up a strong economic record, she adds—though it’s debatable how much credit governments get for economic growth. (Maclean’s)

Winners and sort of winners: Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes harkens back to the 2015 election, which stood out from past elections because at the end of the day no party really lost that badly, and what lessons can be learned as the 2019 campaign unfolds:

What if they held an election and nobody lost?

No, that’s not a prediction for the campaign now underway. I’m pretty sure there will be losers this time. But the last one, the election of 2015, looks increasingly unusual in this particular sense the further it recedes in the rear-view mirror.

It’s odd because the results look acceptable, or more than acceptable, for all three major parties. That’s not normal in Canada. We’re used to unequivocal election-night slaughters, like what befell the Liberals in 2011, or the NDP in the fallow stretch before rebuilding began under Jack Layton, or—shudder—the fate of the Conservatives in 1993.

But 2015 was an entirely different story. (Maclean’s)