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Updated: Fri, 21 Mar 2014 07:48:39 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Quebec election debate: CBC's At Issue panel weighs in



Party leaders Philippe Couillard, left,with the Liberals, Pauline Marois, with the Parti Quebecois, and Francois David,right, with Quebec Solidaire, arrive for the photo op before the first debate of the election campaign Thursday, March 20, 2014 in Montreal. Quebecers will vote in a provincial election April 7, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press

Party leaders Philippe Couillard, left,with the Liberals, Pauline Marois, with the Parti Quebecois, and Francois David,right, with Quebec Solidaire, arrive for the photo op before the first debate of the election campaign Thursday, March 20, 2014 in Montreal. Quebecers will vote in a provincial election April 7, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press

The morning after Quebec’s leaders squared off for their first major debate, it’s time to pick winners and losers.

The National’s At Issue panel was watching the feisty debate, held in French in Montreal, and agreed that a few things are clear:

It’s a two-way race between the PQ and the Liberals.
Pauline Marois will be the centre of attacks throughout the campaign.
All four leaders on stage were looking to score points.

Chantal Hebert said it was a better night for the Liberals than the PQ.

“The momentum going into the debate was behind the Liberals, and I think Philippe Couillard​ … had the better night,” Hebert said.

Andrew Coyne said Marois looked “rattled” at times, as she defended herself from attacks from all three parties.

Coyne said the potential Quebec referendum — the most polarizing issue of the election — proved to be a stumbling block for Marois on Thursday night. The more Marois gives vague answers on when she would hold a referendum, Coyne said, the shakier the public’s view of her gets.

“Increasingly the issue for her is going to be trust,” Coyne said.

Bruce Anderson called it a “stimulating” debate, with four intelligent leaders all on top of their game.

“All four of them were really trying to score some points,” Anderson said, adding each leader also deftly managed to sidestep issues that had been damaging in the past.

Anderson agreed with Hebert that Couillard​ probably came out the winner, but suggested it will be a close race.

For more analysis of the Quebec campaign, watch the rest of the panel here.

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