The major federal party leaders faced off for the official French debate on Wednesday, with less than two weeks to go before election night.
Justin Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh, Erin O’Toole, Yves-Francois Blanchet and Annamie Paul duked it out on topics including climate, Indigenous Peoples and cultural identity, cost of living and public finances, justice and foreign policy, and health care and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s a list of highlights that you may have missed during the debate.
Federal leaders trade barbs on COVID-19, Indigenous rights in French election debate
Health care spending
The leaders were pushed to spell out how much money they would give the provinces for health care, and whether that would amount to the additional $28 billion requested by premiers.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged an additional $25 billion, with some conditions regarding how the money could be spent.
Canada election: Trudeau says O’Toole ‘doesn’t understand’ Quebec’s daycare system
Erin O’Toole said a Conservative government wouldn’t attach any strings to the funding, out of respect for provincial jurisdiction.
Yves-Francois Blanchet said he would demand the additional $28 billion for the provinces.
Jagmeet Singh said the NDP would boost health-care transfers, but wouldn’t say by how much, while Annamie Paul would only say the Greens would discuss the issue with the provinces.
Trudeau erupts at Blanchet over Quebec identity
Perhaps the most heated exchange of the entire debate was when Yves-François Blanchet asked why Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau won’t impose positions on Indigenous peoples but will do the same for Quebecers.
Trudeau quickly exploded at the Bloc Quebecois leader, his face turning red.
“Because I am a Quebecer,” Trudeau said, his voice rising. “You keep forgetting: I’m a Quebecer, I’m a proud Quebecer, I’ve always been a Quebecer, I’ll always be a Quebecer.
“You do not have a monopoly over Quebec … You take the Quebec government’s record as if it’s your own,” Trudeau continued. “You have no right to consider me not a Quebecer.”
The pair talked over each other repeatedly, with Blanchet at one point urging Trudeau to “relax, relax.”
Canada election: ‘You do not have a monopoly on Quebec’ Trudeau tells Blanchet in heated debate
Blanchet conceded to reporters in English after the debate that it was “probably true” that Trudeau was as much a Quebecer as him.
“He can scream ‘I’m a Quebecer’ as much as he wants … but in terms of institutions, this is the Assemblee nationale du Quebec which speaks for Quebec,” he said, referring to the provincial legislature.
Paul struggles in debut debate
The debate was Green Party Leader Annamie Paul’s first real chance to connect with Canadians and potentially stop her descent in the polls.
While she had some strong responses — particularly when she questioned why more is spent on pipelines than on clean water for Indigenous reserves — Paul struggled during her first debate performance, often looking straight down at her notes before continuing with an answer.
Canada election: Party leaders weigh in on whether they’d call another snap election if they form a minority government
Her opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline was undercut when she said it violated the sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en people in northern British Columbia — mixing up that project with the Coastal GasLink line that is running through Wet’suwet’en territory. She visibly appeared to realize her mistake right as the debate transitioned to the next topic.
Conservative lead growing slightly as Liberal, NDP election campaigns hit wall: poll
WATCH: 2021 Canadian election French debate (English Translation)
And when asked about her party’s position on Israel and Palestine, which was reportedly the subject of internal struggles within the Greens, Paul did not provide a clear answer.
Paul and the Greens are struggling in the polls and are hoping to build momentum from this week’s debates, but Wednesday saw the party leader fail to make an impression.
O’Toole, Trudeau spar on wedge issues
Erin O’Toole was asked to further clarify his position on firearms and the ban on assault-style weapons, which he has repeatedly contradicted himself on.
O’Toole’s plan to axe daycare deals under fire in French election debate
While the Conservative leader pledged to keep all remaining bans in place while also targeting gun smuggling and street gangs, Trudeau pounced, accusing his chief opponent of not having a clear plan before diving into other wedge issues.
“He’s cutting deals with special interest groups like he has done with vaccines, like he has done with so-called pro-choice people, because the majority of his members are against women’s choice,” Trudeau said.
“Mr. Trudeau would say anything to win,” O’Toole responded. “I am pro-choice.”
After more back and forth, Singh stepped in, calling both leaders “two sides of the same coin, the same old parties” that fail to keep their promises.
Canada election: Trudeau says Rebel News needs to ‘take accountability’ for increasing polarization
Indigenous water boil advisories
Federal opposition leaders were quick to point out the dozens of Canadian First Nations that still don’t have access to clean water during the debate.
During a question on how Singh’s government would handle boil water advisories, the NDP leader said those communities’ lack of access to clean water was completely “unacceptable” for a rich country like Canada to have. He also lambasted the Trudeau government for giving billions of dollars to banks at the beginning of the pandemic but not fixing the Indigenous water crisis.
“I’m not going to accept it as a lack of capacity — its a crying shame,” said Singh.
Canada election: Singh pledges to end tax havens during French-language debate
The issue of clean drinking water in many remote Indigenous communities came to a head over last year’s evacuation of Neskantaga First Nation — an Ontario Indigenous community that held Canada’s longest water boil advisory of 25 years.
The Trudeau government had pledged over six years ago to end all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities by March of 2021. As of today, the Liberals have ended 109 of those advisories and still has another 50 to go, according to Trudeau.
O’Toole promises to increase health transfers — but bulk of money won’t come for years
Trudeau defended his government’s progress, and said there was still a plan in place, but attributed the slow progress on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other leaders jumped in with criticisms against the Liberal leader as well.
“It’s very important we have a plan, not just words. We need to deliver, working in partnership with Indigenous leaders and Indigenous businesses.” said O’Toole.
Canada election: Singh says Trudeau’s decision to trigger election was ‘selfish’
Liberal climate change record
With all federal parties committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in some capacity, leaders had to defend their plans on how to bolster or maintain Canada’s economies should they cut back on one of Canada’s largest industries.
Trudeau made it clear that only his plan could work, but with the continued use of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which he failed to elaborate on how long he’d keep. The Liberal leader had also warned that O’Toole’s Conservatives wanted to go back to Stephen Harper’s plan on climate change and violate the Paris Climate Accords — a charge the Tory leader denied.
Singh was quick to jab into Trudeau’s record on tackling climate change, however.
“You’ve had six years and truly, I’m sad,” Singh said. “It makes me sad to say so, but in six years you have the worst record amongst the G7 countries, and the truth is you promised to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies but instead of doing so, you’ve actually increased them. So how can people believe you?”
Whether his government would keep the Trans Mountain pipeline, Singh did not say — just that he would make the decision after some thought.
–With files from the Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.