Sometimes election debates, Canadian or American, are remembered not for their entirety, but for one or two memorable lines.
For the Americans, there was Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again” to then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980 — Reagan ended up defeating Carter in a landslide. For the Canadians, there was Brian Mulroney in 1984 telling then-Prime Minister John Turner “you had a choice, sir” for the latter approving patronage appointments put forward by former PM Pierre Trudeau — Mulroney won handily as well.
For some commentators now, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer landed major hits in both the English-language debate Monday night and the French-language debate last week.
Scheer’s opening blast, which made the top headlines Tuesday, was his searing attack on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for various recent scandals, including Trudeau’s wearing of brownface and blackface in 2001 and two occasions prior, the SNC-Lavalin judicial interference controversy and the resulting expulsion of former federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybauld from the Liberal caucus, along with former Health Minister Jane Philpott, and other issues.
“Justin Trudeau only pretends to stand up for Canada,” Scheer said. “He’s very good at pretending things. He can’t even remember how many times he put blackface on because, the fact of the matter is, he’s always wearing a mask. He puts on a reconciliation [with First Nations] mask and then fires the Attorney General, the first one of indigenous background. He puts on a feminist mask and then fires two strong female MPs for not going along with his corruption. He puts on a middle class mask and then raises taxes on middle-class Canadians.
“Mr. Trudeau, you’re a phony, you’re a fraud and you do not deserve to govern this country.”
Scheer was also considered by various commentators to have similarly scored in the French-language debateby referring to Trudeau using two planes for his campaign, leaving the latter open to criticism of climate change-related hypocrisy. Trudeau has said that the second plane is needed for cargo, and to more effectively campaign; and that his party is buying carbon offsets to compensate.
Scheer’s joking retort that Trudeau is using the second plane for “costumes and a canoe” has been seen as very effective, and sticking with Canadians as a whole. The costume jab has the effect of reminding Canadians of Trudeau’s ill-advised costume choices during a trip to India last year, and, again, the revelation that Trudeau posed for a picture in 2001 in brownface and an Aladdin costume, and posed in blackface on at least two other occasions.
The commentary from some national pundits on the issue of Trudeau’s two planes has been rather scathing.
“The political lesson is clear — putting on greenface is a tricky business that can get politicians into trouble,” wrote the National Post’s Terence Corcoran, obviously invoking the brownface and blackface controversy. “For a party that has painted itself green and accused others of being indifferent to carbon emissions and pollution, Trudeau’s response came across as a touch hypocritical. It also smacked of political self-importance.”
Former politician and current columnist Warren Kinsella wrote that Scheer won the French language debate, from the perspective of English Canadians who did not watch it but heard media reports.
“In a leaders’ debate, you need to make certain that it’s your story that dominates,” Kinsella wrote on Facebook “Here’s why: no matter how nice your opponent looks — no matter how articulate, no matter how charming — he or she can’t win if your message is the dominant theme of the night. Like Andrew Scheer’s attack on Justin Trudeau’s two campaign planes. Because it (a) exposed Trudeau as a complete enviro-hypocrite (b) it made him look vain (because he uses the second plane to transport his ‘canoes and costumes,’ as Scheer quipped and © it was the dominant theme in all the subsequent coverage in English Canada — because the Tories had graphics and ads ready to go to ensure that it dominated. It reminded me of what Jack Layton did to Michael Ignatieff in another debate, with devastating results.”
Kinsella concedes, and we have heard from other sources, that Scheer did not do as well in the way he answered accusations that his past expressions of pro-life positions will affect his governing. Scheer has said, as did Stephen Harper, that issues involving abortion and same-sex marriage will not be revived in his government.
But, on the other hand, many view the Liberals’ bringing up Scheer’s past views as a way to distract from Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin, black-brownface and India costume scandals, as well as the accusation that many of his 2015 promises were broken. firstname.lastname@example.org