Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, Liberal LeaderJustin Trudeau, Green LeaderAnnamie Paul, New Democratic Party LeaderJagmeet Singh and Bloc LeaderYves-Francois Blanchet participate in the federal election French-language leaders debate in the Grand Hall of the Museum of History, in Gatineau, Que., Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Leaders spar over foreign policy, Indigenous issues during only English debate

Leaders spar over foreign policy, Indigenous issues during only English debate

OTTAWA — Federal party leaders jousted over foreign policy, climate change and Indigenous issues during Thursday’s English-language debate — their last, best chance to sway voters before the Sept. 20 election.

Questions about the fall of Afghanistan and the ongoing imprisonment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China ignited heated discussions between the five leaders invited to participate.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet piled on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for calling an election while Afghanistan was falling to the Taliban.

Trudeau shot back at his opponents, accusing them of talking down the work by the military and diplomats to get 3,700 people out of Afghanistan, and 43 more with the help of Qatar earlier Thursday.

Trudeau also said his government is doing everything it can to get Kovrig and Spavor, known in Canada and around the world as the “two Michaels,” out of China.

“If you want to … get the Michaels home, you do not simply lob tomatoes across the Pacific,” he told O’Toole.

The federal leaders also sparred over Indigenous reconciliation, with Paul saying the issue should not be treated like a buffet.

Singh accused Trudeau of “taking a knee” — as he did at an anti-racism rally on Parliament Hill last year — while taking Indigenous kids to court.

Singh was referring to Ottawa’s controversial legal challenge of a pair of rulings involving First Nations children.

Trudeau shot back, saying cynicism is harming reconciliation efforts, and that his government has made progress by getting more Indigenous kids into quality schools and lifting more than 100 boil-water advisories.

O’Toole said he would like to see the Canadian flag raised again on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, with a commitment to “move forward” on the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Canadian flag has remained at half-mast on the Peace Tower and other federal buildings since late spring to mark the finding of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools. O’Toole has previously said Canadians “should be proud to put our flag back up.”

On climate change, Singh and Trudeau had a fiery exchange, with the Liberal leader saying the NDP’s policy rates an ‘F’ while stating that experts have given the Liberal plan high marks.

Singh accused Trudeau of presiding over the worst record on fighting climate change in the G7 during his six years in power.

Paul said Canada could become a renewable energy superpower, and all parties need to work together to respond to the shared threat.

The two-hour debate began with tough questions from moderator Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute.

To Trudeau, it was why he called an election just as a fourth wave of COVID-19 was sweeping the country.

He argued that the debate would show voters have to choose among radically different views on how to finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better.

To O’Toole, the question was how can voters trust that he would be in the driver’s seat if elected prime minister, and not his caucus, many members of which have decidedly more conservative views on issues like abortion and climate change.

“I am driving the bus,” O’Toole insisted, stressing that he’s personally “pro-choice.”

Singh was asked to explain why he has yet to release the costing for his election platform. He did not directly respond while saying the NDP is the only party that would make the ultrarich pay their fair share.

Blanchet took issue with Kurl asking him why he supports “discriminatory laws” in Quebec, which prohibit some public sector workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

He insisted the laws are not discriminatory but are legitimate laws that reflect the values of the Quebec nation.

Canada Election 2021

 

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left to right, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole take part in the federal election English-language Leaders debate in Gatineau, Que., on Thursday. (Photo by The Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left to right, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole take part in the federal election English-language Leaders debate in Gatineau, Que., on Thursday. (Photo by The Canadian Press)