Health care, pandemic election call, climate change dominate leaders' French debate

·5 min read
Health care, pandemic election call, climate change dominate leaders' French debate
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh listen as Green leader Annamie Paul speaks during the federal election French-language leaders debate, Wednesday, September 8, 2021 in Gatineau, Que.  (Sean Kilpatrick?The Canadian Press - image credit)
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh listen as Green leader Annamie Paul speaks during the federal election French-language leaders debate, Wednesday, September 8, 2021 in Gatineau, Que. (Sean Kilpatrick?The Canadian Press - image credit)

Five party leaders sparred in French over their plans for climate change, COVID-19 vaccinations, and future health-care funding on Wednesday as the federal election campaign entered its final two weeks.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole bore the brunt of the attacks during the two-hour debate, as the others on stage — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet — made their own pitches to Quebecers and French-speaking voters.

The debate opened with a question from moderator Patrice Roy about the prospect of another snap election if this vote results in another minority government.

Trudeau would not commit to respecting a four-year interval between elections, while O'Toole said he "absolutely" would.

WATCH: Trudeau and O'Toole speak about the prospect of another snap election

Singh later criticized Trudeau for calling the election, calling it an "egotistical" decision.

"Why did you call this election?" Singh asked Trudeau. "It made no sense to do this."

Trudeau, O'Toole spar over mandatory vaccines

Discussions about Canada's handling of the pandemic, vaccinations and public health care dominated the early stages of the debate, with the leaders largely re-stating their established positions.

On mandatory vaccinations, Trudeau said restrictions that bar non-vaccinated people from travelling, going to restaurants and working in some workplaces have been effective measures to promote vaccination.

"Yes we need to inform, but we also need to demonstrate that it's in [Canadians'] interest to be vaccinated," Trudeau said.

O'Toole accused Trudeau of politicizing the issue of vaccines and said a Conservative government would promote vaccinations while using other tools, such as rapid COVID-19 tests, for people who are not vaccinated.

"The middle of a pandemic is not the time to have an approach of division," the Tory leader said.

O'Toole was also pressed about his stance on public health care and the prospect of Canadians paying for access to some health services.

WATCH: Erin O'Toole on private health care access

"I appreciate our public and universal system," he said in response.

O'Toole also promised stable and consistent health transfers to the provinces, without conditions on how the money must be used. However, new costing figures released today show the Conservatives plan on handing out relatively little of their promised health care funding over the next five years.

Climate change and the environment

Trudeau was the target of repeated attacks from other leaders over his record on climate change and reducing emissions during the debate round on the environment.

"We can't have another four years of Mr. Trudeau," said Singh, who noted that emissions have risen during Trudeau's time as prime minister. Singh said an NDP government would move to invest in renewable energy and electrify transportation.

Paul said the Greens would end federal support for the fossil fuel industry and said Canada's future depends on the development of renewable energy.

WATCH: Leaders debate how to balance the energy sector while reducing emissions

O'Toole, meanwhile, said his party's plan would create jobs in the energy sector while also reducing emissions.

Blanchet suggested that idea would soon turn into a "pumpkin."

Indigenous issues

In the debate round on Indigenous issues, the leaders first fielded a question on the possibility of the federal government recognizing Indigenous languages as official languages under Canadian law. Only Singh and Paul said clearly that they support the idea.

Trudeau said valuing Indigenous languages is important and he pointed to what he called the "difficult" decision to appoint Mary May Simon as Governor General. May Simon speaks Inuktitut but not French.

"To me, that shows how much we must value these cultures, these languages, to advance together," Trudeau said.

The leaders later debated the lack of access to clean drinking water on some First Nations. Trudeau was accused of doing to little to improve access but said work is still underway to improve those conditions.

WATCH: Leaders discuss access to drinking water on First Nations

Child care plans

Trudeau also defended the Liberal plan to invest billions in Canada's child care system with the goal of creating spaces and reducing fees. O'Toole's party plans to honour the Trudeau government's initial investments in child care, but he said a Conservative government would move toward a system of tax credits to help parents pay for child care.

"Our plan will help all families in Quebec," O'Toole said.

Trudeau responded by accusing O'Toole of not understanding how Quebec's system actually works. He said that, even with access to tax credits, low-income families would pay more for child care under the Conservative proposal.

"Inspired by Quebec, we will create 250,000 spaces across the country, and Mr. O'Toole wants to scrap all of that," Trudeau said.

Blanchet thanked Trudeau for complimenting Quebec's system, which has subsidized rates of $8.50 per day, and said the system is proof that Quebec is well-equipped to operate its own system.

Paul interjected shortly after, noting that she is the only woman on stage and should have a chance to speak about child care issues.

WATCH: Annamie Paul on the child care plans

The official leaders' debates are organized by The Leaders' Debates Commission, a non-partisan and independent organization.

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was not invited to participate because the commission determined that his party did not have the required level of voter support — four per cent — five days after the date of the election call. Recent polling figures suggest the PPC has since overtaken the Greens in national support.

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