Five federal party leaders will face off on Wednesday evening in the first of two official election debates, which may be the best chance to impress voters before election day on September 20.
In less than two weeks, millions of voters are expected to attend Wednesday’s 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 will both participate in the debates.
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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Most of the leaders had arrived by 7:30 pm, with a few dozen protesters – some carrying signs of the People’s Party – on the pavement stopped from approaching the entrance of the museum.
Leading up to the debate, liberals, conservatives and the NDP sought to fill the void by occupying positions and calling each other out.
During a virtual news conference, liberal candidates Melanie Jolie and Mark Holland accused O’Toole of colluding with right-wing “fringe” elements and perpetuating a secret agenda on gun control, abortion and compulsory vaccines.
O’Toole has faced questions in recent weeks after an apparent reversal over plans to repeal a Liberal ban on assault-style firearms and a refusal to require vaccinations to Conservative candidates. He has also said he is pro-abortion after appealing to anti-abortion activists during his campaign for Tory leadership last year.
“If Canadians listen carefully to the debates tonight and tomorrow night, they are going to hear those code words, little nudges and blinks, to help those fringe groups elect them as leaders. Could meet: ‘No, don’t worry, I’m actually still with you,’ said Holland.
Asked whether the Liberals were focusing on the so-called wage issues because the polls put them closer to the Tories in support, Jolie said the issue was to focus on how O’Toole’s comments to voters came from Conservative members. How are they different?
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.
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According to the document, the Tory platform pledges would add $138.2-billion to this fiscal year’s projected budget deficit of $30-billion, based on the parliamentary budget official’s election platform 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 Conservatives also announced a subsidy program Wednesday morning to help the country’s tourism and hospitality sectors emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Dine and Discover” program will offer a 50 percent discount for one month for food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased while eating in person at restaurants between Monday and Wednesday, the party said, “once it’s safe to do so.” Is.” in a news release. The party said the program is expected to invest one billion dollars in both the sectors.
Another program would provide a 15 percent tax credit — up to $1,000 per person — for vacation expenses for travel within Canada in 2022.
The Tories also promised to eliminate the “Liberal Escalator Tax on Alcohol,” a federal tax on alcohol products that increases annually.
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.
Hours before the debate, senior NDP officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed satisfaction over how the campaign has fared so far during a background briefing. He said he planned to keep Singh in front of the cameras as much as possible during the last two weeks.
The official said the public and internal polls indicate considerable frustration with Trudeau and the liberals. The goal is for Singh to connect with as many Canadians as possible, while comparing himself to a Liberal leader.
The party is hoping the strategy, including frequent reminders by liberals about broken promises, will prevent NDP supporters from changing their votes for fear of a conservative government.
The new Democrats are hoping to gain seats in Vancouver, Lower Mainland, BC, north and southwestern Ontario, and Montreal.
Several NDP candidates held a news conference before the debate to unveil their party’s plans for northern Ontario, during which they accused the Liberal government of failing the region. NDP candidate Charlie Angus discussed financial issues before Laurentian University in Sudbury, despite education being a provincial issue. Laurentian has canceled dozens of courses, laid off nearly 100 employees and filed for creditor protection.
The New Democrats also pledged to strengthen Fednor, the federal agency responsible for supporting economic development in northern Ontario, and criticized the Liberals for not doing enough to address transportation challenges in the region.
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 “discussion 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 of discussion are climate change, cost of living and public finance, indigenous people and cultural identity, justice and foreign policy, and health care and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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