During a back-and-forth in response to a question about Bill 21, Quebec’s legislation that bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols, Bernier brought up Singh’s opposition to him being among the six leaders allowed to participate in the English-language debate.
“You said that you didn’t want me to be here on the stage to have a discussion with you. You’re for diversity, but what about diversity of opinion?” Bernier said to Singh.
“Are you believing in free speech only when people are saying things that you want to hear?”
Singh responded by saying that after a few minutes of the debate, people could “clearly see why I didn’t think you deserved a platform.”
Earlier in the debate, moderator Lisa LaFlamme read out a list of tweets by Bernier, including ones in which he called diversity in Canada a “cult,” used the words “ghetto” and “tribes” to describe newcomers, and referred to climate advocate Greta Thunberg as “clearly mentally unstable.”
Singh told Bernier that it’s one thing for someone to say things that you disagree with. “But when you incite hatred, when you incite division … it shows a lack of judgment. You don’t deserve a platform and I’m happy to challenge you on that, because your ideas are hurtful to Canada.”
Bernier repeatedly tried to interrupt Singh, saying, “I just want to have a debate.”
In September, Singh wrote to the Leaders’ Debates Commissioner requesting that the commissioner reconsider the decision to allow Bernier to participate in the debates.
“It is wrong that Mr. Bernier be given a platform to promote an ideology of hate that spreads prejudice and disinformation,” Singh wrote at the time.
Bernier, whose campaign promises include slashing immigration rates and fighting against “political correctness,” was initially not invited to the debates, but that decision was overturned after Bernier proved he and his party could fulfill a number of requirements such as running candidates in 90 per cent of the federal ridings and proving that more than one candidate has a “legitimate” chance of winning.
On the issue of Bill 21, Bernier reiterated his party’s stance that, if elected, it would not intervene in the matter as it is provincial jurisdiction.
Though Singh has said that his very presence in Quebec, as a man with “a beard and a turban,” defies Bill 21, he also said an NDP government would not meddle in ongoing court challenges against the Quebec legislation. He has also said he opposes any laws that are divisive.
The Conservatives and the Green party have also said they would not interfere with the law. A number of protests against the law have broken out across Quebec, and a number of groups are pursuing court challenges to fight it.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pressed Singh on the matter at the debate.
“I am the only leader on this stage who has said, yes, a federal government might have to intervene on this,” Trudeau said.
Singh responded and said that every day of his life is fighting racism.
“I’m going to Quebec and telling people, I want to be your prime minister,” he said.