OTTAWA – Five federal party leaders pulled off mandatory vaccination, health care and snap elections in the first of two official election debates on Wednesday evening as they sought to impress Francophone voters ahead of election day on Sept.

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In less than two weeks, millions of voters were expected to attend the two-hour French debate and Thursday’s English debate.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchett and Green Party leader Annie Paul were both set to participate in the debates.

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People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier did not meet the criteria established by the Independent Leaders’ Debate Commission for participation.

Both debates, organized by the Broadcasters’ Association, are being held at the Museum of Canadian History in Gatineau, Ky., across the river from Parliament Hill.

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The debate’s moderator, Patrice Roy, kicked off the night by asking all five politicians whether in minority status they would commit to avoid starting another election, continuing what the Liberals said about the need for the current one.

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Trudeau shrugged off the question and reiterated his argument for sending Canadians to the ballot in a pandemic, shortly after he wants a renewed mandate “Okay because Canadians need to say we’re doing this.” How do you get out?”

O’Toole and Paul both said they would “absolutely” aim to stay away from a snap election, adding that cooperation in the House is paramount.

Blanchett, noting that Trudeau said in last week’s debate that another election within 18 months was a possibility, said his party would support good government measures for Quebec.

“We did not want this election,” Singh said. He said he would respect the mandate of the Canadian people to have the next government.

Asked whether vaccination should be mandatory, Trudeau called the discussion a “false debate” and sought to bridge the gap between his stance and that of O’Toole. Trudeau claimed the Tory leader’s position shows that vaccination and rapid testing are on par.

“This is not the time to divide people. We need to work together,” O’Toole countered, adding that vaccinations are “essential” but that other tools such as rapid testing, masks and physical Disturbances play a role.

He also repeatedly stated that he had “respect” for the government of Quebec Premier François Legault as he tried to drive home the point that he would remain out of the affairs of the province and with “no strings attached”. Health transfer.

“I trust the government of Quebec. Why does Mr. Trudeau always interfere with provincial jurisdiction?” O’Toole asked.

Trudeau said Tory leaders “do not stand against a two-tier system.”

Blanchett claimed that all other parties plan to hand over funding only with conditions, “because they claim the federal government knows more about it than the provincial governments.”

As the debate went on, a few dozen demonstrators, some carrying party signs, gathered on the sidewalk, but prevented themselves from approaching the museum’s entrance.

The Conservatives released costs for their election platform hours before leaders arrived at the debate site on Wednesday evening, amid mounting criticism of Trudeau over O’Toole’s failure to prepare a balance sheet for his plan.

According to the document, the Tory platform pledges would add $138.2 billion to this fiscal year’s projected budget deficit, based on the parliamentary budget official’s election platform’s cost baseline. Thereafter the deficit will drop substantially every year, reaching $24.7 billion in 2025-26.

Blanchett threw a pre-debate punch, telling reporters an hour before game time that the billions of child-care funding given to Quebec by the Liberal government failed to show up in the Conservatives’ five-year plan.

Conservative officials said Wednesday that an O’Toole government would honor funding deals with provinces for the first year. But then the Liberal child-care plan will be replaced by the Conservatives’ promise to convert existing child-care expense deductions into a refundable tax credit that will cover up to 75 percent of child-care costs for low-income families .

The debate comes as opinion polls show liberals and conservatives are caught in a two-way race, with the NDP and the Bloc set to determine which of the two main parties will emerge victorious.

Last week’s TVA French debate, to which neither Paul nor Bernier was invited, has done little for either party to move the needle.

In 2019, around 7.5 million Canadians joined the English debate across all traditional and social media platforms, while some three million joined the official French debate. Surveys conducted by the Debate Commission later suggested that “the debate was central to the electoral process,” according to a commission report on the process.

That said, the commission reported that its surveys found no measurable difference in intended voting or change in vote intention between Canadians who viewed the debate and those who did not.

Wednesday’s French debate begins at 8 p.m. ET.

Topics being discussed include climate change, cost of living and public finance, indigenous peoples and cultural identity, justice and foreign policy, and health care and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 8, 2021.