Cape Breton Post

Lacklustre debate heavy on talking points

- CHRISTOPHE­R NARDI POSTMEDIA NEWS

GATINEAU, Que. — With less than two weeks before election day and an increasing­ly tight race between parties, Canada’s political leaders had a largely flat debate Wednesday, where each participan­t mostly served viewers pre-packaged lines on hotbutton issues such as the deficits, the environmen­t, health care and Indigenous policy.

One of the few lively clashes occurred between Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Bloc Québécois YvesFranço­is Blanchet, not on a substantiv­e policy issue but rather on Trudeau’s identity as Quebecer compared to the Bloc leader’s.

“You do not have a monopoly over Quebec,” Trudeau said to Blanchet, nearly yelling. “You don’t get to accuse me of not being Quebecer enough.”

On stage with Trudeau and Blanchet during the debate Wednesday night were Conservati­ve leader Erin O’Toole, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party of Canada Leader Annamie Paul.

The Peoples’ party’s Maxime Bernier did not meet the independen­t commission’s criteria for participat­ion.

The debate was moderated by Radio-Canada anchor Patrice Roy and covered five themes: climate, cost of living and public finances, Indigenous peoples, cultural industries and cultural identity, justice and foreign policy, and pandemic and health care

“I’m sorry Mr. Trudeau, but this is an undesired election,” Roy said to begin the debate, following up with a question to leaders on whether they’d respect a four-year mandate regardless of the outcome (minority or majority) of the Sept. 20 election.

Trudeau did not answer the question, but O’Toole, Singh, Paul and Blanchet each in vague terms seemed to say they would.

“The fact that we are in an election is a consequenc­e of the fact that people are not looking to work together, that things have become hyper partisan,” Paul said.

Just like during the first debate last week, Trudeau was repeatedly grilled by opposition leaders about his decision to call what some have called a “selfish” election, a question that already seemed to annoy him just minutes into the debate.

“Viewers can see how deep the difference­s are in our positions as to how the pandemic should be handled,” Trudeau retorqued at one point. “Canadians should have a say in that.”

In addition to moderators Patrice Roy and Noémi Mercier, four francophon­e reporters were also chosen to quiz the leaders during rapidfire question periods that were praised on social media for not pulling any punches.

For example, political analyst Hélène Buzzetti asked O’Toole, whose party released its platform costing just before the debate, how he would balance the budget and reduce deficits. “Is it the O’Toole magic?” she asked after the first half of his response.

O’Toole disagreed while repeating once again that he “has a plan.”

Shortly after, she grilled Singh on his plan to fill the

government’s coffers by taxing the rich and multinatio­nal companies. How will you do it, she asked, is it “magic thinking?” Singh also disagreed, reiteratin­g his promise to go after the ultrawealt­hy.

The first leaders’ faceoff was between Singh and Paul on mandatory vaccinatio­n policy. Both leaders agreed that it was important to push

for vaccinatio­n, but Paul dodged a question on whether she supports mandatory vaccinatio­n.

Eventually, the moderator asked Trudeau if by pushing people to get vaccinated

more, he wasn’t pushing some to rebel further and avoid vaccinatio­n. Trudeau said it was a “false debate” and that it

was time to get people vaccinated to return to normal life.

The moderator then asked Trudeau how much Canada paid for all our vaccines, which Trudeau once again avoided. “We paid competitiv­e prices, but for competitiv­e reasons, I cannot tell you,” he said.

On the topic of labour shortages that are rampant across the country, leaders were divided on solutions, where O’Toole and Blanchet argued that COVID-19 benefits like the Canada Recovery Benefit needed to be phased out. Singh, Trudeau and Paul disagreed, with the latter challengin­g others to replace those benefits with universal basic income.

Just like in last week’s debate on TVA, O’Toole faced some difficult moment when he was criticized by both Trudeau and Blanchet for his plan to replace the Liberal’s bilateral agreements with most provinces to fund $10-per-day daycare spots with a tax credit directly to parents.

Trudeau accused O’Toole of “not even understand­ing” Quebec’s daycare system, noting that low-income Quebecers “don’t even pay for daycare.”

The topic of environmen­t was launched by a question from 11-year-old Charles, who said that he was already

concerned for his children’s future due to the climate crisis.

In their responses, Trudeau pointed to the government’s net-zero legislatio­n, O’Toole touted the Conservati­ve plan to reduce greenhouse gas emission, and Paul argued that on climate, the Greens are the only choice. Singh criticized

Trudeau for increasing GHG emissions during his time as prime minister.

Each leader was eventually asked what they would do with the TransMount­ain pipeline that the Trudeau government purchased to develop. The Liberal leader said Indigenous communitie­s needed the money from the project, O’Toole said that it was necessary for Western Canadian workers and Blanchet noted he would use the money from it to help fund

Alberta’s “much-needed” transition away from oil.

Paul said that she was opposed to the pipeline and that she does not expect anyone to draw a profit from it, whereas Singh said he was opposed to the project but, when pressed, said an NDP government would consider keeping it.

Trudeau said that “every other leader’s plan here relies on magic thinking.”

 ?? JUSTIN TANG • POOL VIA REUTERS ?? From left, Conservati­ve Party leader Erin O’Toole, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Green Party leader Annamie Paul, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-Francois Blanchet participat­e in the federal election French-language leaders
debate, in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday.
JUSTIN TANG • POOL VIA REUTERS From left, Conservati­ve Party leader Erin O’Toole, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Green Party leader Annamie Paul, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-Francois Blanchet participat­e in the federal election French-language leaders debate, in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday.

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