The party leaders all acquitted themselves reasonably well given the challenge of debating in English the complex problems and challenges that Quebec faces.This was more difficult for Manon Massé,the representative of Quebec Solidaire and perhaps, also at times a bit for Francois Legault. It was revealing how the parties differed on key issues like assuring that the public sector properly reflects the minority composition of contemporary Quebec. Here the position of Massé and Lisée was notably better than that of Legault or Couillard.
Once again the issue of immigration to Quebec loomed large in a portion of the debate. Here the position of the CAQ despite Legault ’ s attempt to moderate it and explain it still remains offensive and factually impossible to implement creating a hard border between Quebec and the rest of Canada and an inevitable clash in the courts. The CAQ leader and the PQ leader had sharp effective attacks against the Liberal leader for the damaging cuts in spending they had implemented. Legault scored well when he pointed out cutting services for children with learning difficulties and autism to balance the budget was unacceptable.The Liberal austerity obsession had inflicted damage on many vulnerable people. But Legault had no defence when it was pointed out by Couillard and the other leaders that his proposed tax cuts would undermine comparable health and education programs in the future.
There was also a good subsection of the debate which focused on the environment and climate change and the future role of hydro electricity in the province but no mention of the damage that these projects potentially could have and have had on indigenous peoples. It is difficult to argue that anyone will change their vote but it may well make people think carefully about whom they cast their vote for and which party will do the least damage in government. The CBC poll tracker still shows the CAQ in the lead by a significant margin, 31.8 % to the Liberals 28.5% with the PQ at 21 % and Quebec Solidaire now at 14.5 % but the gap may narrow further in the coming week as voters begin to pay greater attention after the debates.There is a growing possibility of a minority government in which case the smaller nationalist but progressive parties will be in play perhaps forcing them to co-operate with progressive federalists in the Liberal camp or reactionaries in the nationalist CAQ camp.
Hopefully anti -immigrant dog whistle politics will not play any role in the final weeks.
(The latest poll tracker numbers as of September 20th show a virtual dead heat between the CAQ at 30.9 % and the Liberals at 30.6 % The PQ are at 20.3 % and Quebec Solidaire at 14.4% with others at 3.8%.In predominantly French speaking areas the CAQ have a much bigger lead 36 % to 18 % for the Liberals with the PQ running second while the Liberals are stronger in multicultural and anglophone areas, particularly in metropolitan Montreal.The left wing nationalist party Quebec Solidaire is very popular among the 25 and under age cohort)