COMMENTARY: Justin Trudeau finds his fire during French language debate, Twitter analysis shows

Click to play video: 'Canada election: ‘You do not have a monopoly on Quebec’ Trudeau tells Blanchet in heated debate'
Canada election: ‘You do not have a monopoly on Quebec’ Trudeau tells Blanchet in heated debate
WATCH: "You do not have a monopoly on Quebec" Trudeau tells Blanchet in heated debate moment – Sep 8, 2021

The French language debate thrust the 2021 election into the homestretch, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s strong performance left him victorious in the Twitter universe at least, perhaps foreshadowing how Thursday’s English debate will land. His fiery responses to issues around identity and international issues resonated on social media and could signal the turnaround the Liberals have been seeking in what has been a listless campaign for them thus far.

The most passionate exchange came near the end of the debate, when Trudeau reacted with fury to a question from Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet about identity, underlining Trudeau’s Quebecois identity with a passion rarely seen in this campaign. Overall, Ipsos’ Political Atlas debate tracker revealed a few key changes in public sentiment on Twitter.

According to the Atlas, Trudeau emerged victorious, while the other leaders — save perhaps Blanchet — lost ground.

WATCH LIVE: Canadian election English-language leaders’ debate

Ipsos’ Political Atlas tracker measures sentiment and volume on Twitter and can act as a “leading indicator” of both how leaders perform as well as their overall reach into the social media universe.

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The volume of Twitter traffic about the leaders favoured Trudeau going in, as he attracted slightly more mentions on the social media platform than did his opponents, but not by much. By the end, he was well ahead on mentions and trailed only the Bloc leader, Blanchet, in sentiment.

The debate covered five issues: climate, cost of living and public finances, Indigenous peoples and cultural identity, justice and foreign policy, and health care and COVID-19. Trudeau was most passionate about Indigenous issues and cultural identity.

There were a few key moments that were reflected in Twitter traffic. As climate change quickly moved into the second-most discussed issue as the leaders were pressed on their points of view, Blanchet found himself on the defensive when his climate policies were thrown back at him by Trudeau when those policies were applied to Quebec.

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On childcare, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul tried to seize the moment with her observation that she was the only woman leader at the debates and demanded to be heard. But overall, Paul was absent from Twitter discussion and failed to make an impact.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not fare well either. He started the debates behind, and ended there as well, with both the volume of mentions and the sentiment of his performance lower than when he started. It was always going to be a tough slog for the NDP in Quebec, where the most viewers of the French debate are, and Singh showed his struggle with connecting with those coveted voters.

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In the end, the Twitterverse seemed to favour Trudeau’s performance, both in terms of mentions and sentiment. He held his own and displayed a commitment to his core beliefs that has been lacking at times during this campaign, especially when up against Blanchet.

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Blanchet also did well in defending Quebec’s interests and arguing his points of view forcefully.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s careful approach to responding in French limited his ability to act as a major force.

Singh and Paul benefitted the least from the debate, as their presence was diminished by exchanges between the other three leaders. They will have some catching up to do  in the English debate.

Trudeau won this debate according to Twitter followers, if not by a knockout then by volume and passion.

The English debate is Thursday night. We’ll see if Trudeau maintains the passion he found in the French debate, which has been lacking until now.

Gregory Jack is vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs

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