Six federal party leaders make pitches to voters in final debate of campaign

The six main federal party leaders squared off for a final time Thursday night in a debate that focused more on policy than trading barbs.

While the leaders sought to promote their platforms on climate change, affordability and immigration, they also faced questions on issues that have been less prominent in the campaign.

Justin Trudeau said a re-elected Liberal government would commit to amending Canada’s assisted dying legislation within six months.

“When we proposed this law … the courts and the society, everyone was going to evolve and we will continue to evolve with them,” he said.

Each of the federal leaders said they supported softening the legislation, with the exception of Andrew Scheer, who was less firm but said a Tory government would evaluate a recent ruling that found Canada’s laws were too restrictive.

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Scheer renewed his attacks on Trudeau over Canada’s diplomatic dispute with China, accusing the Liberal leader of not taking a strong enough approach.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said that Trudeau hasn’t gone far enough in setting climate goals.

Quebec issues — including the so-called secularism bill, SNC-Lavalin and language rights — were also on the agenda.

Scheer said he was prepared to discuss giving Quebec more autonomy over immigration if his party forms government.

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People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, whose inclusion in the official debates was controversial, reiterated his position that he’s the only candidate willing to cut immigration levels.  The former Tory cabinet minister has also vowed to end “official” multiculturalism in Canada if elected.

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Jagmeet Singh said an NDP government would never impose a pipeline on Quebec, and sought to paint Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet as being pro-pipeline like Scheer.

Trudeau’s record on Indigenous issues was also targeted.

Click to play video: 'Leaders’ Debate: Other leaders attack Trudeau over record on Indigenous relations'
Leaders’ Debate: Other leaders attack Trudeau over record on Indigenous relations

“We’re able to find enough money to buy a pipeline but we don’t have enough money to make sure Indigenous communities have clean water?” Blanchet said in reference to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Singh accused past Liberal and Conservative governments of “neglecting” Indigenous communities.

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“They had the opportunity to do something if they wanted to,” Singh said.

Singh also reiterated that if elected, he would not intervene on Bill 21, a Quebec law that prevents public servants from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.

Trudeau has suggested he would consider taking action to challenge it, the only leader to do so. Blanchet supports the bill.

The party leaders did find common ground on some issues.

All agreed when asked whether companies should be penalized for data breaches. Most expressed support for a high-speed rail link between Toronto and Quebec City, though Bernier was against it and Blanchet was skeptical of the possibility.

“That train is the Sasquatch; it’s a yeti. We always speak about it, we never see it,” Blanchet said. “The Liberals promised it in 2015.”

Leaders questioned on minority scenario

With polls suggesting a very close race between the Conservatives and the Liberals, after the debate, May, Singh and Blanchet were asked about what they would do in a minority government scenario.

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May said the Green Party couldn’t support any government or combination of parties that “fail to have a commitment that is adequate to avoid the catastrophe that awaits us if we continue down the road we’re on,” she said in reference to climate change.

Asked whether he could work with a minority Liberal government that would move forward with the Trans Mountain pipeline project, which the NDP opposes, Singh didn’t explicitly say “yes” or “no.” He reiterated several times that he’s very much opposed to the expansion and “continues to be clear on that.”

He previously said he wouldn’t support a Conservative government.

Blanchet said the Bloc won’t form part of any coalition government if the election results in a minority situation. He said the party will vote according to Quebec’s interests.

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“We are there to carry the voice, and only the voice, of Quebec in Parliament,” he said.

Thursday’s French-language debate centred on five themes: economy and finances; the environment and energy; foreign policy and immigration; identity, ethics, and governance; and services.

The two-hour event, like Monday night’s English-language debate, was organized by the Leaders’ Debates Commission and produced by a partnership of media outlets, including Global News.

Since Monday, the leaders have continued to criss-cross the country and make their pitches to voters.

As the campaign nears its final stretch, only the Green Party has released a fully costed platform to date. The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP have costed select campaign promises, but not all.

The New Democrats are expected to release the costing details of their platform on Friday. The Conservatives also confirmed to the Canadian Press that the party will release its full campaign platform on Friday.

–With files from the Canadian Press

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