Leaders square off over child care, federal spending, in first official French debate

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Federal party leaders battled child care, pandemic recovery and Quebec identity politics in an official French-language debate.

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Bloc Québécois’s Yves-François Blanchett, NDP’s Jagmeet Singh and Green Party’s Annami Paul took part in a widely circulated debate at Gatineau on Wednesday. The debate could have an impact on a campaign where the outcome is seen as uncertain and there is less than two weeks left.

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Mr O’Toole faced criticism from Mr Trudeau and Mr Blanchett over child care. The Costs Conservative platform suggests the party would replace the $29.8-billion dollars in planned generous spending on a national child care program with a new tax credit to cover the cost of child care, which would increase federal revenue. would make less than $2.6-billion. Period.

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The Liberal plan works for Quebec to increase its existing child care program by up to $6 billion.

“Mr. O’Toole doesn’t even understand the Quebec child-care system, which we want to use as inspiration for the rest of the country,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr O’Toole defended his plan, but did not say directly how he would react to Quebec’s expected transfer of $6 billion.

“We will help all the families immediately,” he said. “I will always respect the provincial jurisdiction.”

The block leader said the Quebec government would not be happy with the cost of the Conservative platform on child care.

“The Conservative plan … is $6-billion less in the pocket of the Quebec government,” said Mr. Blanchett.

The same leaders will meet again on Thursday night for a one-off English language debate. Advance elections are open later this week and election day is September 20.

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In pictures: Federal leaders attentive to French-language debate

This week’s two debates are organized by the Leaders Debate Commission only. Four party leaders – minus Ms Paul – also took part in a French-language debate organized by the Quebec television network TVA last week.

Wednesday’s debate came two hours after the Conservatives released cost details of the party’s platform.

When leaders tackled health and the pandemic, Ms Paul set the subject’s high human stakes with a reminder that her father died in a long-term care home during the second wave of the pandemic.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “I will never forget all the thousands of people who lost their loved ones.”

The fault lines in the debate on health were about a perennial topic in Quebec politics – the power of the provinces. Quebec Premier François Legault weighed in on the federal election campaign last month, reinstating calls from provincial and regional premiers for a major increase in federal health transfers.

Mr Legault said Ottawa should increase annual transfers by $28 billion as well as increase transfers by six percent annually. He added that these transfers should come without conditions, praising the Conservatives for offering unconditional increases to Canada health transfers.

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In keeping with his promise of “partnership federalism” under a conservative government, Mr O’Toole on Wednesday night pledged to increase federal funding to $60-billion over the next decade.

However, the cost of their platform, released earlier in the day, shows that only $3.6 billion of this will come in the first five years.

“I will increase health transfers in a way that is stable, predictable and unconditional,” Mr O’Toole said. “Unconditionally, because it is a question of respect.”

The conservative leader presented his party as the only option for financial responsibility.

“With the NDP and Mr Trudeau, we will have spending without limits,” he said.

For his part, Mr Trudeau said he would increase health transfers across provinces to $25-billion, but with conditions, working with provinces “to ensure results” particularly in the long-term care sector, which Was devastated by COVID-19. Quebec. He cited the arrival of Confederate troops to help manage some long-term care homes at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

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“Mr. O’Toole does not understand that it is the job of the federal government to protect the Canada Health Act,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Mr. Blanchett forgets that when the military arrived at long-term care homes in Quebec, there were federal doctors there.

Meanwhile, the bloc leader accused both liberals and conservatives of running on provincial responsibilities in health and undermining provincial capacity to respond to the pandemic crisis. Faced with Quebec’s staggering long-term care death toll during the pandemic and asked if there was some humility to the issue of cooperating with the federal government, Blanchett said the disaster was the fault of a stingy federal government.

“The federal government doesn’t hire doctors, doesn’t hire nurses, doesn’t hire specialists in health,” he said. “The federal government, in contrast, has long been withholding money that, if it had been given to the provincial health systems that were asking for it, there would have been a more solid, robust, effective health system from the beginning.”

Liberals and Bloc leaders clashed over Quebec identity in perhaps the most emotional exchange of the night. Referring to a discussion about reconciliation and freedom of expression, Mr Blanchett asked the Prime Minister, “If we should not tell indigenous nations what to do and what to think, why should they tell the nation of Quebec.” Tell me what to do and what to think?

“Because I’m a Quebecois, Mr. Blanchett!” Mr Trudeau said. “A fact you constantly forget. I am a proud Quebecois, I have always been Quebecois, I will always be Quebecois. I am here to say that you do not represent Quebec unanimously.”

The debate began with the question of whether party leaders would commit not to initiate elections if there was another minority parliament.

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Mr Trudeau did not respond directly and reiterated his view that this is an important time for Canadians to weigh in on the country’s direction.

Mr O’Toole said his party would focus on issues such as ending the pandemic, supporting mental health, balancing the budget and growing the economy.

“After six years of Mr Trudeau, we have too much debt and no opportunities for our youth,” he said.

Mr Singh made it clear throughout the debate that his focus was on Mr Trudeau rather than Mr O’Toole.

“You have an important choice in this election,” he said. “You can choose four more years of Mr. Trudeau, who has allowed the ultra-rich to take advantage of the system, or you can choose the NDP, who has explicitly stated that it is time to invest in the future of millionaires. will pay the share.” Later in the debate, he accused Trudeau of calling the election for “arrogant” reasons.

On the environment, a major issue in Quebec, both the Liberals and the Bloc – the province’s major federalist parties in this parliament – came under attack. Although Mr. Blanchett said Canada could not reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while increasing oil extraction, Mr. O’Toole and the debate’s moderator, broadcaster Patrice Roy, called for Mr. Blanchett from his time as a provincial cabinet minister. confronted with the thoughts of 2013 that supported oil extraction in Quebec.

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Mr Trudeau came under criticism from Mr Singh about Canada’s efforts to meet its Paris climate goals, calling the prime minister “a big negotiator” who had not followed through on his promises.

The debate ended with the return of firearms, a major issue in last week’s TVA debate.

Mr Trudeau accused Mr O’Toole of a lack of leadership on the issue. Mr. O’Toole replied that “Mr. Trudeau will say anything to win,” and conservatives are distorting the situation.

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