Scheer, Singh and May attend first federal election debate tonight without Justin Trudeau

Tonight, three of the four major party leaders will take the stage in Toronto to battle it out in the first televised debate of the federal election campaign. 

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will all be at the Maclean’s/Citytv debate beginning at 8 pm ET, but Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will not be attending. 

May has participated in federal election leader’s debates before, but this will be the first showing for Scheer and Singh, who will be looking to woo voters with their campaign pitches. 

NDP campaign sources say Singh has been preparing for weeks for this debate. He spent much of the past two days in mock debates with people standing in for Scheer and May.

At Wednesday’s campaign event, Singh said he will focus on the man not in the room.

“[Canadians] expect that the prime minister should be able to stand up and respond to questions, hold up and defend his record,” Singh told reporters. “[Trudeau’s] record is pretty abysmal, but that doesn’t mean that he should give up on the debate.”

According to a Conservative source, Scheer’s plan will be to get his message out directly to voters while using the occasion to warm up for the debates that will feature Trudeau. 

A second Conservative source told CBC that Scheer’s team recognizes their leader suffers from a name recognition problem and they hope to use tonight’s debate to introduce the Conservative leader to voters who do not know him yet. 

Scheer’s team say that he will not be spending the evening attacking Singh and May, because voters do not respond well to attacks and a strong showing from the two leaders would work to split the vote on the progressive side of the political spectrum. 

Road-testing arguments for Trudeau

The Conservative leader will, however, push back against climate change policy, including the carbon tax, a policy Scheer will argue does not achieve its aims. 

May, meanwhile, has been in Toronto all day preparing for the debate. According to the Green’s federal campaign director, Jonathan Dickie, May’s team expects Scheer to use the occasion to road test climate change arguments he plans to use against Trudeau in future debates. 

“It’s an interesting opportunity without Trudeau there,” said Dickie. “The clear front-runner [tonight] is Scheer, so it’s a clear opportunity to debate with Scheer without Trudeau there.”