Party leaders give thumbs-up to idea of English pre-election debate

The notion of an English-language leaders' debate before this fall's Quebec election has received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from all four major parties.

A consortium of English-language broadcasters, including CJAD 800 and CTV, made the request for all four main party leaders to take part in a formal leaders' debate in English — something which hasn't happened before a Quebec election in decades.

"I'd be very happy to do this," Couillard told reporters at the National Assembly Tuesday morning. "It would be actually normal that we conduct a debate in English. I hope it will take place."

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisee is open to the idea, too, saying there's plenty that he needs to tell English-speaking Quebecers.

"I think there is much to tell the anglo population of Quebec, how they’ve been taken for granted by the Liberals," Lisée told reporters. "Mr. Couillard has a lot to answer for in French and in English. That’s why I think we should have an English debate."

Later on in the afternoon, Legault made his feelings known in a tweet.

"I accept with great pleasure to hold a debate in English and present our ideas to enrich Quebec and Quebecers. Looking forward to it!", Legault tweeted.

Québec Solidaire has also indicated it will take part — though they have yet to indicate which of their spokespeople, Manon Massé or Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, would take part.

A similar offer was made to party leaders before the 2014 election, but then-PQ leader Pauline Marois declined — saying her English wasn't good enough.

The party leaders are set to debate twice in French before Quebecers go to the polls on Oct. 1 — on Sept. 13 and Sept. 20.

The last time the was an English-language debate between party leaders before an election was in 1985. Then-PQ premier Pierre-Marc Johnson and Liberal leader Robert Bourassa — who went on to win power in that election — took part in a two-and-a-half hour debate broadcast live on CJAD 800.

Back then, the hot-button issues were the Liberals' promise to allow bilingual signs in Quebec — which, of course, had been disallowed when the PQ passed Bill 101 eight years earlier.  A writeup on the debate published in the Gazette suggested Bourassa "refused to be pinned down" on that promise, which led to Johnson labeling Bourassa "a champion of double-talk."