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WELCOME TO OTTAWA PLAYBOOK. I’m your host, Nick Taylor-Vaisey. Tonight, four leaders head to a TVA studio in Montreal for the first leaders’ debate of the campaign. We tell you what to watch for. Justin Trudeau launched his platform just in time, but Erin O’Toole seems to have all the momentum. More on the O’mentum below.

FACE-À-FACE — Most Canadian broadcasters cobbled together a consortium of moderators who will put questions to five party leaders next week. Then there’s TVA. The Quebec-based broadcaster will host its own standalone French-language debate for the third election in a row, moderated by PIERRE BRUNEAU.

He’ll try to keep JUSTIN TRUDEAU, ERIN O’TOOLE, JAGMEET SINGH and YVES-FRANÇOIS BLANCHET in line starting at 8 ET tonight. It’ll also air on Le Canal Nouvelles and QUB radio.

POLITICO’s ANDY BLATCHFORD has shared his briefing notes with our Pro subscribers. Here are a few highlights:

— Target Blanchet: Large swaths of Quebec’s majority francophone electorate have been known to support different parties from election to election.

Blanchet’s pro-independence Bloc, which only fields candidates in Quebec, offers the most-recent example of those swings. The Bloc’s resurgence in the 2019 vote, when it more than tripled its seat count, helped prevent Justin Trudeau’s Liberals from hanging onto a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.

“There is this question, which is quite specific to Quebec … who is in the best position to represent the interests of Quebec … in Ottawa?” DANIEL BELAND, director of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada, tells Blatchford.

— The Legault effect: Quebec premier FRANÇOIS LEGAULT holds considerable sway over the federal campaign. Trudeau, Blanchet and O’Toole have each worked to make nice with Quebec’s popular nationalist premier. Expect at least some of the provincial leader’s demands for the federal leaders to find their way into the debate.

— The climate factor: The environment is a major issue for Quebecers and the party leaders faced many questions about their policies this week during the Radio-Canada interviews. Watch for O’Toole to be tested on his climate proposals, said Beland, including the Conservatives’ position on any potential pipelines through the province.

ON DAY 19, A PLATFORM — Trudeau heads into the TVA showdown armed with his party’s 82-page manifesto. He countered O’Toole’s “detailed plan” with his own “real plan,” a rhetorical joust that we’ll call a wash.

— Key metrics: The Liberal platform promises C$25 billion in new revenue over five years and C$78 billion in new spending. The all-important debt-to-GDP ratio will come in at 48.5 percent this year, roughly three percent lower than the most recent budget’s projections.

— View from the C-suite: Trudeau hopes to haul in C$5.5 billion over five years from banks and insurance companies that rake in more than a billion dollars a year. PAUL DESMARAIS III — he of the Power Corp family dynasty — isn’t a fan. An eagle-eyed reader spotted the corporate titan’s LinkedIn review: “Typical Trudeau policy. Tax the builders and spend without return. Having a zero sum view of the world benefits no one.”

— Order of operations: The platform’s “at a glance” section reveals the party’s priorities. “Finishing the fight against Covid” is first, followed by the Liberal housing plan. Next is healthcare, then economic recovery, environment and, finally, reconciliation.

Abacus Data’s pre-election polling found voters’ top six issues were cost of living; access to health care; climate and environment; post-pandemic recovery; an economic plan; and taxes. Housing was eighth.

— It’s costed: The Liberal plan is alone among major parties to include fiscal tables with their platform. The party made a bit of a show of it. Even the password journalists used to access a digital version made reference to the costing.

O’Toole has said he’ll avoid making any cuts if he wins power, but the pressure’s on him to explain to voters how his math adds up. Trudeau joked that Tories will rely on “magical thinking” to make it work.

— Here’s looking at you, China: Buried near the back of the document is the party’s “principled approach to foreign policy.” The Liberals name-check China before a suite of promises squarely aimed at countering foreign influence.

One stands out. Liberals pledge to pass a law “to safeguard Canada’s critical infrastructure” — including 5G networks. But they still haven’t decided whether or not Huawei, the Chinese telecom caught up in frosty Canada-China relations, can help build 5G infrastructure.

— What no one’s talking about: The Liberals promised to penalize provinces that don’t ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services. But they’ll also revoke charitable status from “anti-abortion organizations that provide dishonest counseling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”

Thanks to a reader for alerting us to that pledge.

— What’s missing: Tory candidate DAN ALBAS says there is “nothing to increase transparency or accountability” in the platform, and “nothing to combat corruption or conflict of interest.” Not for nothing — with apologies to party insiders who hate the “Ctrl-F test” — but the word ethics doesn’t appear once in the Liberal plan.

THIS COULD BE A1 — Trudeau continued to stand by candidate RAJ SAINI at his Wednesday presser. Saini has been accused of “unwanted sexual advances” and “harassing behavior.” CBC News reports that one of his former staffers “said her experience in Saini’s office contributed to her mental distress, and she eventually tried to take her own life in his office in March 2020.”

Global’s DAVID AKIN asked Trudeau why he stands by his candidate. “Mr. Saini has shared details about the multiple processes that have gone through over the past many months, and the efforts that have been made to demonstrate that we are taking seriously every single concern that is raised.” Trudeau insisted “independent processes” took place.

Not everyone is convinced.

O’MENTUM — The Tory leader appears to have wind in his sails heading into the first debate. His party has caught up or surpassed the Liberals in national polls, and Abacus Data shows his favorability improving markedly in just two weeks.

Some Conservatives admit to Andy that the early gains may have more to do with Trudeau than their guy. Others say O’Toole is getting a second look for a reason.

— IAN BRODIE weighs in: “I don’t remember the last time I saw a prime minister call an election … and yet be so unprepared for it,” said the former chief of staff to PM STEPHEN HARPER. “The surprise of the election is that Trudeau has just looked frozen.”

— JAMIE ELLERTON’s take: “He’s not going to be the stereotype of what Conservative opponents paint Conservatives to be,” said the former senior aide to JASON KENNEY who now runs Conaptus Ltd. “Instead, he is taking a thoughtful approach that considers and has a lot of empathy on how we communicate on these issues. And so when you hear him speak on it, there’s an authenticity.”

Read Andy’s feature report on O’Toole’s resurgence.

COVID WATCH — As a Delta-driven fourth wave of Covid hits the four biggest provinces and school-aged kids return to their classrooms, the pandemic could become a defining theme of the 2021 campaign.

Every day, we’ll update the most recent provincial data on Covid hospitalizations in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec. The change since the last daily update is in parentheses.

Ontario: 339 (+3)

Alberta: 465 (+34)

British Columbia: 199 (+12)

Quebec: 138 (+7)

TICKET TO FREEDOM — Ontario Premier DOUG FORD announced a long-anticipated plan to introduce an “enhanced vaccine certificate and verification app” — i.e. a vaccine passport. Ontarians will need one to visit almost any indoor setting aside from retail stores, grocery stores, pharmacies and health-care facilities. The need for proof of vaccination won’t apply to people who work in those settings (or children who aren’t eligible for vaccines).

It starts Sept. 22, two days after the federal election. “This is something that I did not want to do,” Ford said. “I know this is going to be very difficult for some people.”

When Ford was asked why it took so long to take this step, he blamed the feds. Journalist JUSTIN LING jumped in to fact-check that line of attack.

ACROSS THE BORDER — White House press secretary JEN PSAKI said Wednesday the United States is working on developing a “consistent and safe international travel policy” amid frustrations over continued restrictions on vaccinated Canadians and Europeans entering the country. She didn’t give a timeline for when an announcement on a new travel policy might come, but said the administration understands “the interest in it being resolved and completed.”

Where the leaders are today (and why):

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will be in Montreal for the TVA debate.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s only scheduled event for the day is at the TVA studio. He is no doubt neck-deep in debate prep.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is keeping it light by serving up Punjabi poutine at two different Montreal parks: Père Marquette in ALEXANDRE BOULERICE’s Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, and Préfontaine in neighboring Hochelaga — where MARJOLAINE BOUTIN-SWEET twice won the riding for the NDP.

Backroom strategists Scott Reid, Jenni Byrne and David Herle. | Courtesy of Air Quotes Media

We’re collaborating with The Herle Burly on 2021 campaign coverage. DAVID HERLE, SCOTT REID and JENNI BYRNE tackle a key question each day. Find out more about them here.

Today: Does the Liberal platform have the stuff to turn around Trudeau’s campaign?

REID: In a word, no. I don’t even think it’s intended as a campaign-defining document. I think it’s intended as a campaign-reinforcing document: Do you like your government active and interventionist? Your spending big and bigger? A program for every problem? Maybe even two? Then you’re gonna dig this.

I don’t see it as a platform that seeks to re-frame the election. I see it as a platform that seeks to re-affirm the Liberals as the party of “we’ve got your back.” (And your front and both sides and all those little hard-to-reach spots, too.)

HERLE: If the spending programs announced prior to this haven’t moved voters, it’s difficult to see these ideas changing much. A campaign desperately in need of a story got instead more details that will be used in online targeted marketing. The Liberals seem to have settled on vaccination as their core argument.

BYRNE: The Liberal platform is a C$78 billion Hail Mary to try to inject some life in a flailing, desperate campaign. Lots of promises, a number from previous campaigns that were never implemented. The Liberal campaign is banking on the fact that 40 percent of Canadians who plan to vote have heard zero about the campaign so far. I guess we shall see.

Listen for the daily edition of the Herle Burly panel’s campaign pod. Nick Taylor-Vaisey kicks things off each morning with lively banter and keen insight. Subscribe to Curse of Politics here.

Each day throughout the campaign, David Coletto from our polling partner Abacus Data will share a data point from his polling to help illuminate public opinion.

Today: Do debates matter?

As the leaders gear up to debate in French tonight on TVA, I went into our data vault to see what impact the debates had in 2019.

After the last TVA debate, we found that viewers were most likely to have a negative reaction to ANDREW SCHEER’s performance. He was the only leader who registered more than 20 percent on that score. Who won the debate? According to our polling, Trudeau and Blanchet tied at 30 percent apiece.

Conservative numbers in Quebec subsequently started to tumble, and the Bloc Québécois started to make gains.

In the English-language debate the following week, Mr. Singh was the big winner with 59 percent who watched at least some of the debate thinking he performed well — significantly ahead of all the other leaders. That debate put some wind in the NDP campaign’s sails.

So, yes, debates can matter and given the fluidity of opinion this time, I think they will.

For information about these surveys, please visit these links.

For Pro subscribers:

— Canada burns and the election heats up. Trudeau’s still trying to figure out if he’s a climate warrior.
— Liberal plan reveals big spending with a promise of new revenue
— Climate takeaways from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party platform.
— The problem with playing God to fix the climate: It might not work.
— Ida churns up tension on infrastructure vs. climate change.
— How Covid data gaps allowed Delta to proliferate.

— Assembly of First Nations National Chief ROSEANNE ARCHIBALD has unveiled her organization’s top five requests for federal leaders.

— CINDY BLACKSTOCK, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, spoke to the Ottawa Citizen about Indigenous issues on the campaign trail: “I just want someone who’s going to put their nose to the grindstone and get the job done,” she said. “It’s been too much talk, delay, deflect and defer.”

— NIIGAAN SINCLAIR in Maclean’s offers a question Indigenous voters should ask: “Are they better served by a Liberal majority or minority?”

— The Star’s SUSAN DELACOURT reports that Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s truce with Justin Trudeau has collapsed over vaccinations. ICYMI, here’s Delacourt on the campaign trail.

— “Should the recent rise in inflation be an important issue in the ongoing federal election campaign?” MOSTAFA ASKARI, SAHIR KHAN and KEVIN PAGE say, “Yes and no.”

— CBC’s Frontburner podcast talks about the anger on the campaign trail. And the CBC’s ELIZABETH THOMPSON reports on how the protests are being organized.

— Bloomberg’s ERIK HERTZBERG quotes from a Scotiabank note to clients penned by economist DEREK HOLT. Said Holt of Statscan’s latest GDP release: “There is a fundamental question of judgment at the agency in terms of dropping a sudden revisions bomb in the midst of an election campaign”

Movers and shakers: GRAHAM LANKTREE, POLITICO’s U.K. trade reporter, reports that ahead of talks for a new trade deal Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON’S new trade envoy to Canada, CONOR BURNS, has been making a public display of all the efforts he’s making to build trade ties with Canucks. Burns met with Canada’s High Commissioner to the U.K. RALPH GOODALE on Tuesday. But he’s also held a series of calls with those who know the country best, including Obama-era ambassador to Canada DAVID JACOBSON, former Conservative Canadian foreign minister JOHN BAIRD and former PM STEPHEN HARPER.

RYAN KENNERY is now vice-president at Mediastyle. … The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board meeting with GLENN CAMPBELL, Infrastructure Canada’s assistant deputy minister for investment, partnership and innovation.

Spotted: DESTINATION CANADA looking for a global PR agency to help “spread the love for Canada” when travel resumes in the post-pandemic era. … The SUPREME COURT OF CANADA, planning a Quebec City getaway. … NDP Campaign Director JENNIFER HOWARD on Power & Politics — insisting she’s both getting some sleep and drinking too much Diet Coke. (For the record, she dodged twice when asked if the NDP would support a Conservative minority government.)

Tuesday’s answer: Who took that iconic photo of ROBERT STANFIELD fumbling the football during one stop in a 20-hour, four-timezone day?

“I did !!!” DOUG BALL emailed us to say. Ball also captured Pierre Trudeau’s famous pirouette.

Props to RALPH LEVENSTEIN, GORD MCINTOSH, BOB GORDON, TIM MCCALLUM and ALYSON FAIR. And to ART WHITAKER, who noted: “Mr. Stanfield caught the football several times, but it was the photo of him fumbling it that made all the papers.” CBC Archives has more on that moment.

Wednesday’s question: Speaking of epic undertakings on the trail, who started a campaign day wading in the Atlantic Ocean and ended it 16 hours later with feet in the Pacific?

Send your answers to [email protected]

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Thanks to Luiza Ch. Savage, editor Sue Allan, Zi-Ann Lum and Andy Blatchford.

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