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The First-Ever English Quebec Leaders' Debate Was A Complete Mess

6 points to take away.
Senior Editor
The First-Ever English Quebec Leaders' Debate Was A Complete Mess

This evening, the leaders of Quebec's four most popular political parties participated in the province's first-ever English-language debate.

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Phillipe Couillard (leader of the parti libéral du Québec), François Légault (leader of the coalition avenir Québec), Manon Massé (co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire), and Jean-François Lisée (leader of the parti québécois) each made their case to the anglophone community in Quebec.

The event was a remarkable piece of television drama.

Indeed, the historic nature of the debate was largely marred by the bickering and attacks that dominated it.

The debate was a complete mess, though not for the reasons you would expect.

He's a summary of some its most notable moments and features.

Each leader* made great efforts to connect with Quebec English-speakers

The debate was all about reaching out to English-speaking Quebecers. Despite the controversy surrounding the debate (advocates for the French language in Quebec called for its cancellation), each leader seemed genuine in their care for the anglophone community.

Of course, engaging in a televised political debate in a second language is no small feat. But each individual conducted themselves with grace. Even Manon Massé, who had the most difficult time in English, was able to well communicate her points. Her practice for this debate was palpable.

The anglophone community will no doubt recognize and appreciate each leader's efforts tonight.

(*Manon Massé's title is spokesperson and not leader of Québec Solidaire. But I will use "leaders" as shorthand for the four representatives that took part in the debate.)

The debate moderators performed poorly

The debate was not well managed by its moderators, whom the leaders called out more than once for misleading statements. The moderators also seemed unwilling to accomodate the fact that each individual was speaking in their second language, and thus required more time to communicate thier points.

Once, a moderator even had to excuse herself after harshly yelling "No!" to François Légault after he requested a few more seconds to complete his statement.

Other questions were poorly or confusingly phrased.

The leaders went to great lengths to avoid directly answering questions about specific anglophone needs

While all leaders adamantly declared their support for English-speakers in Quebec, they all avoided directly answering questions pertaining to that community.

They all emphasized the need for dialogue between the provincial government and the anglophone community but attempted to tie anglophone concerns into larger political issues.

That rhetorical move allowed them to at once avoid angering advocates for the French language and portray the anglophone community as part of a greater whole in the province.

The debate was uncivil

Couillard, Légault, and Lisée regularly spoke over, viciously attacked, and belittled each other. They so often negated each others' statements that facts became blurred.

It was at times embarrassing to behold.

The status of English was the least controversial point

In a rare point of consensus, each leader committed to maintaining the English secretariat, a cabinet-level position which deals specifically with the anglophone community.

They also affirmed that, to paraphrase Lisée, who put it best, "English is not an official language in Quebec, but it is not a foreign language either."

Everyone agreed that there needs to be better communication between the government and the anglophone community.

Lisée and Massé were the only two to affirm that French is the common tongue of Québec.

Couillard was perhaps the least definitive, largely silent on the relationship between English and French in the province. Though he did rightfully state that the French language will always need state protections in North America.

Légault made a point to say that he thinks residents of Québec should be free to choose their own greeting since both "Bonjour" and "Hi" are universally understood.

The leaders were largely unspecific about how to ensure anglophone access to jobs and services

While everyone agreed that English-speakers should have access to public services, they were not clear as to how the provincial government might guaruntee this.

They mostly bickered about which party had the best plan to fund more services without explaining exactly how they would expand those services.

Massé was the only candidate to commit to a 25% hiring quota in the state bureaucracy for visible and audible minorities, including English-speakers.

They all basically promised to strengthen French-immersion in public school to enable native English-speakers to attend francophone universities and work in French-speaking environments. But again, most of the arguing focused on how exactly to fund these initiatives.


The Quebec leaders' English-language debate was monumental if insubstantial. It was poorly organized and responses were often unsatisfying.

But most importantly, each leader made clear their commitment and attention to the anglophone community in Quebec. On that point, the debate was a great display of unity.

You can watch a recording of the debate here.

    Thomas MacDonald
    Senior Editor
    Thomas MacDonald is a Senior Editor for MTL Blog focused on Montreal public transit and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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