It was also a big night for one-liners — rehearsed and improvised — as the politicians took turns throwing verbal jabs.
Surrounded by an audience of undecided voters, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tried to inform Canadians of their plans while keeping up with heated retorts and accusations from their opponents.
While there were many exchanges, here’s a roundup of five key moments:
Trudeau vs. Scheer and Bernier
While discussing immigration, Trudeau took on both Scheer and Bernier.
The Liberal leader was involved in an exchange with Bernier, who argues his party is the only one willing to have a serious discussion on the impacts of immigration on Canada, when he redirected his attack at Scheer.
“We must celebrate who we are,” Bernier said. “I’m a proud Canadian like you. We build this country together and we want this country to be like that in 25 years. We love this country, and it’s sad because I want to have a discussion about immigration that I’m radical.”
Trudeau interjected, becoming more pointed: “Mr. Bernier, your role on this stage is to say publicly what Mr. Scheer thinks privately.”
Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny
In another display of double-shots, Singh interrupted a squabble between Trudeau and Scheer with a set of new nicknames.
Trudeau was discussing his party’s plan to fight climate change and simultaneously bolster the economy while Scheer took aim at the federal carbon tax.
The two argued over each other for several seconds before Singh butt in.
“Let me put it out here for you guys,” he said, as the two continued to bicker.
When the moderator asked the leaders to speak one at a time, Singh made his move.
“I want to say this directly to Canadians: you do not need to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny,” he said, arousing laughs from the audience.
“There is another option out there. We are committed to a real plan that’s going to take on the biggest polluters. It’s going to take on the powerful interests because that’s what we need to do if we want to build a better future. It’s going to mean taking on the powerful.”
Scheer’s provincial proposition
On multiple occasions, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s name was thrown into the conversation by Trudeau, and Scheer took note.
Trudeau brought up Ford while accusing Scheer of keeping his platform a “secret.” He likened Scheer to the controversial Ontario premier.
“Most of it is still secret and it will remain a secret, apparently, like Doug Ford. That didn’t work out so well for Ontarians,” Trudeau said.
Scheer shook his head as Trudeau accused him of “allowing a tax break for the wealthy” before responding.
“First of all, Mr. Trudeau, you seem to be oddly obsessed with provincial politics. There is a vacancy for the Ontario Liberal leadership, and if you’re so focused on provincial politics, go and run for the leadership of that party.”
The audience broke out in applause.
May’s big bet
In what might be considered the hardest jab of the night, the Green leader made a gamble, essentially calling the election for the Liberals.
She said that with just two weeks left in the campaign, Canadians should know “one thing.”
“At this point, Mr. Scheer, with all due respect, you’re not going to be prime minister. The question is going to be on a seat count,” she said, with some applause trickling through the crowd.
“If we’re going to have Mr. Trudeau in a minority or Mr. Trudeau in a majority, voting for Green MPs is your very best guarantee, Canada, that you don’t get the government you least want.”
Scheer, in response, vowed to “prove her wrong.”
“I’ll lay my bets right now,” May said with a smile.
Singh gets blunt with Bernier
Bernier, who was not initially allowed to participate in the English-language debate, at one point addressed Singh for opposing that he be included.
The exchange unfolded during a discussion of Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols.
“You said that you didn’t want me to be here on the stage to have a discussion with you. You’re for diversity, but what about diversity of opinion?” Bernier asked Singh.
“Are you believing in free speech only when people are saying things that you want to hear?”
Singh, in response, told Bernier bluntly that he didn’t believe he should be there at all.
“After a couple of minutes of this debate tonight, I think people can clearly see why I didn’t think you should deserve a platform,” he said, adding that he believes Bernier incites hatred and division with his rhetoric.
“It shows a lack of judgment,” he said. “You don’t deserve a platform, and I’m happy to challenge you on that because your ideas are hurtful to Canada.”
Bonus: Scheer? Singh? Which one is it?
In a more awkward moment, Trudeau flubbed his opponents’ names.
Trudeau accidentally addressed Singh as “Mr. Scheer” while going head to head over offshore tax havens.
“I’m very different than Mr. Scheer,” Singh said, stirring laughs from the crowd.
Trudeau laughed and smiled, acknowledging the error. He then joked, saying the party leaders “look so alike.”
The same accident happened later in the night, this time by moderator Dawna Frisen.
Singh took the mistake in stride, again making a joke.
“I wore a bright yellow turban for a reason,” he said.
Scheer suggested he was taller than Singh so they shouldn’t be mixed up.
“Stop rubbing it in,” Singh responded with a smile.