Here’s what to expect from this week’s French-language debate

After facing off twice in English, the leaders of the three major federal parties will cross swords again on Thursday night in Montreal, this time in Canada’s other official language.

Joining NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau on Radio-Canada’s soundstage will be Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, who has yet to participate in a debate in this 78-day campaign. will be carrying the debate live with simultaneous translation. As the leaders converge on Montreal and begin rehearsing their carefully crafted take-downs en français, here’s a look at what Canadians are likely to see come Thursday night.

Duceppe’s last stand

This debate, and a second French-language debate to be held Oct. 2, represent Duceppe’s last and best hope for starting his party’s heart beating again. After experiencing a small bump in support following its former leader’s return from the political wilderness, the Bloc promptly flat-lined, falling far behind the NDP in Quebec and polling at 5 per cent support across the country, according to a recent Ipsos-Reid poll.

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Most recently, the party attempted to convince Quebecers that voting NDP would be voting for pipelines and niqabs in an ad that drew harsh criticism from Muslim groups.

Duceppe has more than two decades of political experience and is no stranger to federal debates. He will also be facing off in his native language, which will give him a distinct advantage over the other leaders (although both Trudeau and Mulcair are very at ease in French). Add to this the fact that he has little — if nothing — to lose, and it’s safe to say there will be fireworks.

Clarifying clarity 

The issue of Quebec secession and how it might play out is almost certain to come up in this debate, as it did (albeit relatively briefly) in the Maclean’s debate. Mulcair has repeatedly defended the NDP’s position that a 50-per-cent-plus-one majority in any future referendum will be sufficient to break up the country.

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That runs contrary to the federal Clarity Act, which echoes a 1998 Supreme Court of Canada decision stipulating that “a clear majority” Yes vote would be necessary before any secession initiative could be considered legitimate.

The Liberals have seized the opportunity to accuse Mulcair of pandering to separatist voters and endangering national unity, even dragging former prime minister Jean Chrétien into the frayWhile the sovereigntist movement in Quebec has arguably stagnated in recent years, the debate over Quebec secession appears to be alive and kicking.

Economy, economy and (yes) more economy

Canada’s current fiscal situation has dominated the headlines since the beginning of this campaign and been the central topic in the previous two debates. This will be the first chance for the leaders to speak directly to francophone voters en masse about their economic visions, so viewers can expect to see more of the same.

The group of media outlets organizing the debate — which include CBC/Radio-Canada, La Presse and Global News — has announced that it will be divided into five distinct segments. Count on at least one of those to be entirely focused on the economy.

A crowded stage

In addition to the (count ’em) five leaders scheduled to participate in the debate, there will be two people actually asking the questions: Patrice Roy, a Radio-Canada anchor, and Yves Boisvert, a journalist from La Presse. The unenviable task of keeping everyone in line and preventing the kind of cross-talk that plagued the Globe and Mail‘s debate (which featured only three leaders) will fall to Radio-Canada’s Anne-Marie Dussault. Good luck to her.

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