Party leaders debate climate, deficits, Indigenous services, assisted dying, SNC-Lavalin
The French-language debate was the last gathering of all 6 leaders
In the last debate of the federal election campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau kicked off his pitch to Canadians by saying Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet would never be able to implement a climate plan because he does not lead a national political party.
Trudeau made a pitch directly to Canadians, urging them to vote for a national party with a plan that can stand up to Conservative premiers in Alberta and Ontario who Trudeau said are determined to ignore the fight against climate change.
"To impose a pan-Canadian plan, you need a government that's ready to do it. A government that's ready to stand up to Jason Kenney, to the oil companies, ready to stand up to Doug Ford and all those Conservatives who don't want to do anything for the environment." Trudeau said.
The exchange came during the first three-way debate of the evening featuring Trudeau, Blanchet and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
Trudeau was asked by moderator Patrice Roy if he plans to increase the carbon tax to meet the Paris targets Canada has committed to. The Liberal leader replied that raising the carbon tax significantly would only be necessary if the government planned no other measures to cut emissions.
Trudeau said that he would implement other initiatives, such as planting billions of trees, protecting the oceans, investing in public transit and reducing single-use plastics.
May said that any plan has to be based on science and criticized Trudeau for having targets that she said were not strong enough.
As the debate opened up to include Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Peoples' Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernie and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the issue of building a pipeline through Quebec was addressed.
Scheer and Bernier exchanged words on whether or not as prime minister they would force a pipeline through Quebec.
Scheer tried to address the opposition to a pipeline through Quebec by referencing his energy corridor plan that would see Quebec energy travel west as oil travelled east to benefit the whole country.
Bernier said that we "shouldn't fear a crisis that doesn't exist" and that it should be left up to the provinces to fight climate change, that Quebec was making great strides on that front, and should be permitted to continue to do so.
Singh, who does not support the Trans Mountain pipeline, said that he would not force a pipeline through Quebec under any circumstances.
The leaders were asked for a detailed explanation of their positions on Quebec's Bill 21, which bans certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work. Specifically they were asked if they would intervene in the court fight against the law.
Singh said that although he wears a turban, he shares the values of many Quebecers, including support for a woman's right to choose and for fighting climate change. He said that he would fight Bill 21 by continuing to try and convince Quebecers that he shares common values with them rather than challenging Bill 21 in court.
Trudeau said that, for now, the debate over the wearing of religious symbols was a Quebec issue that Quebecers were fighting in court, but that no federal government should close the door to action down the line.
"We will not intervene at this stage because this is a question, an issue where Quebecers are challenging this unfair law ... that they find unfair, before the courts," Trudeau said.
"It would be irresponsible for a federal government to close the door to ever intervening at a future stage when freedoms and fundamental rights are at issue. We need to be there to protect francophones outside of Quebec. We need to be there to fight for the rights of women, for the rights of the LGBTQ community and for the rights of religious minorities."
Singh was pressed about comments he made after the English debate in which he said that he would "look at" the law if and when a challenge made it to the Supreme Court of Canada. Blanchet and Bernier both accused Singh of saying one thing in French and another in English.
Bernier said that Bill 21 is a matter of Quebec jurisdiction and should be left that way.
May said that Bill 21 is not an issue for a federal election, it is an issue for Quebec and Quebecers and that this was a time to talk about how climate change would impact the North, farmers and others.
All leaders were asked by the moderator if they were in favour of giving SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.
Bernier said no corporation is above the law. Singh said that it was very difficult to agree with Bernier, but that he had to take his side, accusing Trudeau of trying to help out his "cronies" at SNC-Lavalin by supporting an agreement.
Trudeau said that almost all of Canada's allies have a remediation agreement regime to protect workers from bad decisions taken by corrupt directors of corporations. But the decision belongs to the attorney general and the justice minister.
Blanchet said that Trudeau was right, that the 3,400 SNC-Lavalin employees in Quebec need to be protected and that if federal parties ignored how the decision would impact workers, Quebec would lose an important company.
Scheer said that Trudeau was only trying to save his own job by taking the position he took.
Economy and finances
In the second segment of the evening on economy and finances, the leaders were asked what they would do to make life more affordable for seniors struggling to make ends meet.
Trudeau said his government is raising old age security for seniors over 75, would increase the survivors' benefit and has boosted the Canada Pension Plan.
Both Singh and May said they intend to increase spending on seniors so that they could grow old with dignity.
The moderator asked Scheer where his costed platform was and how are Canadians to know where he was going to cut to balance the budget without it.
Scheer turned to Trudeau, telling him that his platform, which has been released, was "written on the back of a napkin." That led to a flash of crosstalk between the two leaders, making it difficult to understand.
Bernier jumped in, criticizing both leaders for promising to balance the budget in a minimum of five years when they were asking for a term of four years in office.
With Bernier to his right and Scheer to his left, Trudeau found himself under attack for his deficit spending.
Bernier said that Canada could face a recession in the coming years and the federal government needed to balance the books to prepare for the economic storms ahead.
Trudeau dismissed that argument, saying both Scheer and Bernier were a part of former prime minister Stephen Harper's government that failed to invest in Canadians, leaving them vulnerable.
"By making investments in people, in workers, in families, that creates resilience in families and communities. We don't need to create a big pot of money for when we need it, we need to make those investments in people so that they can be strong," said Trudeau.
Scheer was asked by Hélène Buzzetti of Le Devoir if he would raise the retirement age if he wins office. He said he would not.
Taxing the middle class
Singh, May and Blanchet were asked by the moderator about their decision not to offer Canadians tax cuts in their respective platforms.
"Do you not think Canadians need a break?" asked the moderator, CBC Radio-Canada's Patrice Roy.
Singh said the middle class needs help and his party would "never increase taxes on the middle class, on workers, "but a Singh government would increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for the NDP's policy initiatives.
May and Blanchet both said that the government would need to come up with new revenue streams, but that the middle class would not be expected to pay for the cost of their proposals.
When it comes to the services provided to Indigenous Canadians, the leaders were asked what they would do to improve the lives of Canada's First Nations on reserve and off.
Singh said that Trudeau talks a good game publicly, but his actions in private were the problem. Singh said he would respect Indigenous communities as a starting point and that good policy would flow from that.
Singh lumped the Liberals and Conservatives together, accusing them of not doing what is required, although when it comes to investment in the oil patch they are much quicker to move.
- AnalysisIn Quebec, Andrew Scheer fights to erase memories of a bad debate, keep campaign hopes alive
Scheer said he would appoint a minister whose job it would be to ensure that Canada was fulfilling its treaty rights to Indigenous Canadians and that his government would ensure it met its commitments.
Bernier called for scrapping the Indian Act and allowing Indigenous Canadians living on reserves to own land.
Trudeau touted the investments his government has made across Canada since coming to power and promised to make sure funding was in place for residents of remote communities to deal with the problems they face.
Trudeau was asked about his government's appeal of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that awarded compensation to Indigenous children harmed by the on-reserve child welfare system and under-funded child and family services.
Trudeau batted away accusations that he was trying to quash the ruling, saying he would compensate the children, but wanted to ensure he was doing it in the right way.
May accused Trudeau of trying to overturn the tribunal decision. Trudeau replied that this government just needed more time to make sure they got the compensation package right.
Singh also called out Trudeau over Grassy Narrows, an Indigenous community in northwestern Ontario where residents are suffering from a wide range of ailments linked to the historical dumping of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system.
Trudeau said that his government had made historic investments to help Canada's Indigenous communities and would continue to do so.
Assisted dying legislation
A voter asked the leaders if they would be willing to soften the assisted dying law to allow more flexibility in the way people choose to end their lives.
Trudeau said if he is re-elected he would, within six months, relax the rules on assisted dying. He said the law as it stands is not perfect but it was necessary to get a law on the books to begin with.
May said she would be willing to amend the law to give people the ability to choose their time to die with dignity.
Singh said he, too, would be open to revisiting the legislation to remove restrictions that he said were too limiting.
Bernier and Scheer both said that they would also be willing to overhaul the law to ensure that Canadians had more choice on how they end their lives.
Scheer, Trudeau say don't vote Bloc
At one point Singh called out Blanchet for saying that a vote for the Bloc is a vote for Quebec.
"Yes you're the Bloc, but Quebec has a diversity of opinions, a diversity of regions, a diversity of voices. So you have no monopoly over Quebec, not at all," Singh said.
Trudeau wasted no time jumping onside with Singh.
"I am a proud Quebecer and I'm federalist and I'm a proud Canadian and what we saw in 2015 was the Quebecers chose to be a part of a government and that's what brought an end to ten years of [former prime minister Stephen Harper]," said Trudeau.
Trudeau said that with the Bloc on the rise, Quebecers need to think hard about whom they cast their vote for, in the coming election.
"Do [Quebecers] want to be a part of a government that will continue to fight against climate change, that will continue to work hand in hand with Quebec on shared priorities?"
Scheer made a similar pitch to Quebecers, saying he would work with Quebec Premier François Legault to give the province more autonomy when it comes to immigration, but Trudeau would not.
"But with many Bloc Quebecois MPs, that would be impossible because Justin Trudeau would remain as prime minister in that situation," said Scheer.