Federal party leaders traded barbs on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccinations in a French-language debate on Wednesday, as the election campaign is in its final stages.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchett and Green Party Leader Annie Paul face off in a debate at the Museum of Canadian History in Gatineau, Ky. River from Parliament Hill.
The first question of the night – whether a leader would commit to not calling another midterm election if a minority government wins – saw all leaders commit to a full mandate except Trudeau, who did not directly answer the question.
Addressing the audience directly, Trudeau said, “Tonight you’ll hear different views on how we move forward, and that’s for you to decide.”
After each leader told provincial governments to better protect senior citizens living in long-term care, the debate became increasingly heated when the topic moved to compulsory vaccination.
While all leaders agreed that vaccines were important to overcome the pandemic, they disagreed on whether to make those vaccines mandatory for some workers.
Explaining his support for the vaccine passport and mandate despite some vociferous protests across the country, Singh said, “I don’t want to divide my population, I want to protect my population.”
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In explaining his approach that also includes testing for those who refuse vaccination, O’Toole turned directly to Trudeau and asked why the election was called in the middle of the pandemic.
“Why are there elections during a pandemic?” Trudeau responded. “It’s okay because Canadians need a say in how we get out of this.”
Singh later said Trudeau called the election for “selfish” reasons, reminding that the fourth wave of the pandemic was underway when the campaign began and has only gotten worse.
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“We must continue to face the pandemic, help people and realize that this pandemic is not over,” he said.
Asked about the future of Canada Response Benefit (CRB) and other emergency programs launched during the pandemic, O’Toole said such programs should be phased out “substantially” to allow Canadians to return to work. may be encouraged to return – provided there is no fifth wave. to come about.
Singh and Paul strongly disagree, agreeing that vulnerable populations are already at risk and that there will be more damage if the CRB is abolished in October.
“Investing in people is always a good investment,” Paul said.
All the leaders were challenged by moderator Patrice Roy regarding their COVID-19 plans. Trudeau was stressed about how much taxpayer money was spent on getting the vaccines. Singh was forced to defend his plan for free mental health care amid a national shortage of psychologists. And Paul was asked how seriously the Greens should have been taken when his party had yet to release a cost-cutting platform.
The NDP has yet to release costs for its platform, while the Conservatives have released their costs ahead of tonight’s debate. The Liberals released their platform with the cost last week.
Other topics set for discussion during the debate include climate change, cost of living and public finance, indigenous peoples and cultural identity, and justice and foreign policy.
more to come…
-With files from Canadian Press