ELECTION PANEL: What needs to happen during the debate? – Toronto Sun

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Omar Khan, from left, Kate Harrison and Peggy Nash.
Omar Khan, from left, Kate Harrison and Peggy Nash. Photo by Supplied /Postmedia Network

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The Sun has assembled a panel of top political and policy minds to break down all the hot topics of the election campaign.

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Today’s topic: The English language debate is Thursday evening. What are the important issues that need to be addressed? And what do the leaders need to do to win over undecided voters?


This feels like the Seinfeld election: it’s not really “about” any one thing. The Liberals have struggled to define the ballot box question. The result? The election means many things to many people – and they’re shopping their votes around, accordingly.

Expect Erin O’Toole to drive home the message of affordability in the English debate. Lowering the price of groceries and cell phone bills, helping people achieve homeownership, and a GST holiday in December are some of the Tories’ most notable promises on pocketbook issues.

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Wedges on vaccine mandates, abortion, private healthcare and guns so far haven’t stuck to O’Toole. That doesn’t mean they will be absent from the debate, and Justin Trudeau will look to make O’Toole uncomfortable by raising them. The Conservative Leader must answer these questions clearly and concisely while bringing everything back to what voters really are concerned about.

Trudeau is no longer the “sunny ways” candidate. Negativity isn’t on-brand for the Liberal Leader, but it has been the hallmark of their campaign. O’Toole needs to meet that pessimism not with a sharp tongue, but with positivity and ambition. That will be key to wooing undecided voters to the Blue Team.

Kate Harrison is Vice Chair of Summa Strategies Canada. She has been an active member and volunteer of federal and provincial conservative parties for fifteen years.

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For Jagmeet Singh, the debate will present an opportunity to build upon what has so far been a pretty good campaign. Singh will need to convince Canadians that he has the judgment and discipline necessary to be Prime Minister. This won’t be easy since. Despite his high personal approval rating, the NDP can’t seem to get above their historic polling average in the low 20s.

Liberal Justin Trudeau and Conservative Erin O’Toole both head towards election day watching their flanks as the NDP and People’s Party campaigns are in a stronger position than two years ago.

Trudeau is a skilled and experienced debater. Expect him to highlight the three key economic anchors of the Liberal platform, namely access to affordable childcare and housing along with bold action on climate change, paid for by taxing big bank and insurance company profits. Trudeau will also likely go after O’Toole for cozying up to the gun lobby and for being wishy-washy on vaccine mandates.

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O’Toole on the other hand needs to show voters he is about more than just grievance politics. Some Conservatives seem to think they can win this election by motivating more of their base to show up than the Liberals. This strategy goes against historic trends. Canadian elections are still won in the centre of the political spectrum.

Omar Khan is a Liberal strategist who has worked with the Liberal Party of Canada and the Ontario Liberal Party as a staffer and volunteer for over two decades.  He currently works as a Senior Vice President for a retail-focused cannabis company.

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With only one English language debate in this election, Justin Trudeau’s snap election seems designed to discourage voter turnout. People are only now starting to think about the election, with the advance polls opening Friday and election day about ten days later in the midst of a pandemic. Many youths are disillusioned with Justin Trudeau but it’s harder for them to vote with no polling stations at universities.

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Much of Trudeau’s magic seems missing. He will likely sound feisty and campaign against the anti-vax crowd. Erin O’Toole needs to keep up his charm offensive, like a friendly neighbour, hoping to peel off Liberal votes. Likely he will try to comment on China and Afghanistan even though these aren’t official debate topics.

Jagmeet Singh needs to stay relaxed and upbeat, but relentless. He needs to keep calling Trudeau to account for his failures on pharmacare, indigenous reconciliation, voting reform and much more. Rather than discouraging people, he needs to inspire them. Whether on climate change, indigenous rights, reducing social and economic inequities, fighting racism or creating jobs, Singh has to convey that he has a better plan, and that he will actually make his plan happen.

Peggy Nash is a former NDP Member of Parliament. She is a Senior Advisor to the Dean of Arts at Ryerson University and a board member of the Broadbent Institute.

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