News Analysis Sep 10, 2021 3:00 AM EST

O'Toole, Paul shine, Trudeau gets roughed up in English leaders debate

Much of the drama during the debate centered around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who polls show has consistently trailed Opposition leader Erin O'Toole.

O'Toole, Paul shine, Trudeau gets roughed up in English leaders debate
Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal, QC
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Thursday saw the 44th federal election's only English-language leaders debate, giving candidates just two hours to show off their ability to keep composed, land solid jabs at opponents, and win over swing voters. Candidates battled over issues such as climate change, reconciliation, pandemic recovery, as well as leadership and accountability.

Much of the drama during the debate centered around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who polls show has consistently trailed Opposition leader Erin O'Toole.

When asked how he could justify an election during COVID's fourth wave in Canada, Trudeau struggled to remain on topic, leading to him being reminded by the moderator Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid institute to remain on topic, to which he did not.

Candidates held no punches when dealing with the prime minister, with Green Party leader Annamie Paul taking strong jabs at Trudeau over his feminism record.

Specifically, Paul spelled out the strong women that Trudeau had pushed out of the Liberal Party, including former Attorney General Jody Wilson Raybould, former Health Minister Jane Philpott, and MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes.

The attacks did not stop there, as Conservative leader Erin O'Toole went after Trudeau for starting an election on the same day that Kabul fell to the Taliban.

"When Afghanistan was falling," said O'Toole, "there was thousands waiting for help from Canada. What did Mr. Trudeau do? He called an election. [He] put [his] own political interests ahead of the well-being of thousands of people. Leadership is about putting others first, not yourself. Mr. Trudeau should not have called this election. He should have gotten the job done in Afghanistan."

Trudeau was then attacked by O'Toole for his weakness on China and the two Michaels, who have been in Chinese prisons for over 1,000 days. O'Toole pointed out Trudeau's lack of action, as did NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc leader Yves Francois Blanchet.

When pressed on the matter, Trudeau said that the correct approach to China was to work with international allies rather than "lob tomatoes across the Pacific," the way that "Stephen Harper did."

Trudeau would mention or allude to Harper a number of times during the debate, When it was pointed out that Canada had not met a single emissions target since 2016, Trudeau said that the government before his did not believe in climate change.

Attacks on Trudeau's climate record also came from Singh,

"You had six years, you've got the worst track record in all the G7 after six years. How can people trust you?" said Singh.

One candidate who seemed much less interested in any conversation about leading Canada was Bloc leader Yves Francois Blanchet, who specifically said so much.

The leader, who only has candidates in Quebec ridings, was asked by he moderator about the controversial Bill 21, which bans public employees from wearing religious symbols, including garb.

Blanchet said that the laws, which are largely popular in Quebec, were there protect Quebec's secularism.

"You may repeat as many times as you like that those are discriminatory laws," Blanchet said. "We are saying that those are legitimate laws that apply on Quebec territory and there seems to be people around here which share this point of view."

Blanchet would go on during the post-debate press conference to say that the debate was spun to make Quebecers look racist and xenophobic.

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