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Monday, September 27, 2021

Latest: Four leaders made final pitches to voters after heated debate

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MONTREAL — The Latest on the French-language leaders’ debate airing on TVA among Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet (all times eastern):

10:55 p.m.

Taking his turn at the podium, Trudeau sought to clarify his position on whether Canadians would be heading back to the polls quickly should the Sept. 20 election result in a minority government.

During the debate, Trudeau said there would likely be another vote in 18 months if Canadians don’t elect a majority.

But after the televised event, Trudeau said he simply meant that 18 months is the average life span of a minority government, and noted his party has surpassed that milestone.

10:40 p.m.

O’Toole was pressed on his stance regarding Canada’s public health-care system in a news conference after the debate.

He highlighted — in both French and English — his proposal to boost health transfers to provinces with no strings attached.

O’Toole also vowed to convene the country’s premiers within 100 days of his party forming government, in an effort to address health-care gaps exposed by the pandemic.

10:35 p.m.

Singh says he’s against Quebec’s secularism law but in favour of the separation of church and state.

Singh was asked after the debate how he would overcome the law — which prohibits some public sector worker from wearing symbols such as hijabs and turbans at work — to win over Quebec voters.

He said he understands why Quebec wants to limit the influence of religion but doesn’t believe in discriminating against people for what they wear.

10:15 p.m.

Blanchet suggests his party would more effectively represent Quebec’s interests in the House of Commons under a minority government.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Blanchet says many of the gains and victories his party achieved since the last federal election were because the Liberals — and to a lesser degree, the Opposition Conservatives — had to compromise.

He also suggested the Bloc would have done even more if an election hadn’t been called so soon.

10 p.m.

The four leaders made their final pitches to voters after a debate that sparked heated discussions over the pandemic and key issues such as health care and climate change.

Trudeau painted his party as experienced and ambitious, and ready to continue the work of pulling Canada out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Singh vowed to tackle the housing and climate change crises, which he said had worsened under the Liberals, and to make life more affordable for Canadians.

O’Toole, meanwhile, emphasized his willingness to respect provincial jurisdiction on matters such as immigration, and his plan to boost health transfers.

Blanchet most pointedly targeted a Quebec audience with promises to defend the province’s interests in Parliament.

9:40 p.m.

Trudeau defended his record on climate change as it came under fire from Singh and O’Toole, who noted Canada has missed its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Liberals.

The NDP leader added that Canada has the worst results on emissions of all the G7 countries, and accused Trudeau of not delivering on his environmental promises.

Trudeau pushed back, saying the measures implemented under his watch will lead Canada to exceed the targets set under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

He then turned the tables on O’Toole, accusing him of seeking to roll back the country’s progress by reverting back to the targets established under Harper.

9:15 p.m.

Speaking directly to the camera, O’Toole accused Trudeau of a lack of leadership when it comes to protecting female members of the Canadian Forces from sexual harassment.

O’Toole says Trudeau’s office “camouflaged” allegations that former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance acted inappropriately towards female subordinates and asked Trudeau if he regretted giving Vance a salary increase after the allegations were made.

Trudeau responded that his government is following the processes in place and that investigations need to be handled independently.

Trudeau has said he did not personally know about a complaint against Vance that was disclosed to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018, and his staff did not know the details of the allegation.

Vance was charged with one count of obstruction of justice last month following an investigation into allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour. He has denied any wrongdoing and not been charged in connection with those allegations.

O’Toole says there needs to be zero tolerance for harassment and sexual misconduct by senior military officers.

9 p.m.

The debate has revived a year-old dispute between Singh and Blanchet over the NDP leader calling a Bloc MP a racist.

Singh was removed from the House of Commons for the remark in June of last year, which came after Alain Therrien blocked a New Democrat motion to recognize systemic racism in the RCMP.

The Bloc has said it was already supporting a study of systemic racism in police forces, including the RCMP, at the Commons public safety committee and did not want to draw conclusions before the work had even begun.

Blanchet pressed Singh to apologize for the comment during the debate, prompting Singh to launch into an explanation for his actions.

The pair spoke over each other repeatedly, with Singh saying Therrien had made a dismissive gesture.

Blanchet said he took issue with someone being accused a racist for disagreeing with a motion in a Parliament specifically created for debating motions.

8:50 p.m.

An animated Trudeau repeatedly pressed O’Toole about whether he would expand private heath care in Quebec.

It’s a familiar attack from the Liberal leader who has criticized his Tory opponent during the campaign for saying he supports provinces giving patients choice.

Last week Liberal Chrystia Freeland tweeted an edited video from O’Toole’s leadership run in which he talked about his support for private, for-profit medical services within Canada’s public health care system, but cut out his proviso that universal access must remain “paramount.”

The Conservative leader defended himself from Trudeau’s attacks by saying the video in question was flagged by Twitter as manipulated media and he’s promising to spend billions more on universal health care.

8:40 p.m.

Trudeau is once again facing accusations of interfering in provincial matters as the leaders face off on their plans for long-term care.

Nursing and seniors’ homes bore the brunt of the first and second waves of the pandemic, accounting for most of the country’s deaths and prompting Ottawa to send in the military to homes in Ontario and Quebec.

When asked whether he would support national standards for nursing homes, Blanchet says he disagrees with the belief that rules coming out of Ottawa are better than those created in Quebec.

Trudeau says he wants to work in partnership with the provinces while respecting their jurisdiction over health care.

O’Toole, meanwhile, touted his campaign promise to increase health transfers to provinces with no strings attached.

He says Trudeau’s approach, which includes targeted health funding, is paternalistic — not a partnership.

Singh says he wouldn’t stand idly by as residents in long-term care suffer.

8:20 p.m.

Federal party leaders traded barbs over mandatory vaccinations early in the debate.

Trudeau says he’s not interested in forcing people to get vaccinated, but limiting the privileges of those who choose not to get the shot.

He attacked Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole for not requiring his candidates to get vaccinated.

O’Toole says he believes the country can find reasonable accommodations for those who are unvaccinated, like rapid testing and social distancing.

O’Toole talked about how he and his wife, Rebecca, contracted COVID-19.

The Tory leader says he respects Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s decision to introduce a vaccine “passport” QR code to allow those who are immunized access to non-essential businesses.

8:10 p.m.

The pandemic is the first theme of the debate, with Blanchet pressing Trudeau on his reasons for triggering an election as the fourth wave gained momentum.

Blanchet raises the risks of campaigning at this time, and suggests Trudeau has been breaching public health measures while taking selfies in close quarters with members of the public while out on the hustings.

He asks whether Trudeau would have sent voters to the polls at this time if he had a majority government.

Trudeau says now is the time for the federal government to make big decisions and Canadians need to be given the chance to weigh in — a similar answer to what he’s given throughout the campaign when pressed on this issue.

7:40 p.m.

The four leaders taking part in tonight’s debate have arrived at the TVA studio, where they were welcomed by several dozen protesters and a heavy police presence.

Most of the demonstrators were carrying flags for the Unifor and CUPE unions, though they were also joined by protesters from environmental groups.

As they walked in, the leaders were greeted by Pierre Karl Peladeau, chief executive of Quebecor, which controls the network’s owner Groupe TVA.

The debate, which is the first of the election campaign, is set to begin at 8 p.m.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2021.

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