Highlights from the English federal leaders debate

The federal party leaders in tonight’s debate are battling it out over five key issues: affordability, climate, the COVID-19 recovery, reconciliation, leadership and accountability.

With 11 days until the election, this appears to be a close race between Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole — although a majority government by either party seems unlikely at this point.

With many voters still uncommitted, the stakes in the only English-language debate are high. 

While CBC News is covering all the action, you can check back here for a collection of highlights and key moments that stand out from the cut and thrust of tonight’s action.

Secularism in Quebec

The debate kicked off with a lively exchange between Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and debate moderator Shachi Kurl over Bill 21, which bans some civil servants, including teachers, police officers and government lawyers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

The Quebec government said the restrictions were necessary to protect Quebec’s unique version of secularism.

Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, asked Blanchet more than once “why the discriminatory laws and your support for it sir?”

“You may repeat as many times as you like that those are discriminatory laws,” Blanchet replied. “We are saying that those are legitimate laws that apply on Quebec territory and there seems to be people around here which share this point of view.”

WATCH: Blanchet pressed on Quebec’s Bill 21

Moderator presses Blanchet on Quebec laws

When debate moderator Shachi Kurl called Quebec’s secularism laws “discriminatory,” Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet disagreed and insisted they reflect “the values of Quebec.” 0:57

Trudeau, who has frequently called himself a feminist, was asked how he can use that term when the military is mired in sexual misconduct scandals.

Trudeau said his government has put stronger policies and processes in place to support survivors. 

Green Leader Annamie Paul said that, based on what she has seen, Trudeau is not a feminist. She went on to thank several female former Liberal politicians — including Jane Philpott, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Celina Caesar-Chavannes — who left or were removed from the party after coming into conflict with Trudeau. 

Trudeau fired back at Paul, who recently faced a revolt within her own party. “I won’t take lessons on caucus management from you,” he said

WATCH: Paul and Trudeau spar over Liberal leader’s track record on women’s issues

Liberal and Green leaders have heated exchange over feminism and leadership

Justin Trudeau and Annamie Paul had the first exchange in the English leaders’ debate, hosted by Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute. 2:12

Climate change

Trudeau and O’Toole also battled over climate change, with both leaders offering up their plans as achievable and effective.

“You ask about how we are going to convince the quarter of Canadians who still don’t think climate change is real. Mr O’Toole can’t even convince his party that climate change is real cause his party voted against that,” Trudeau said. 

At the Conservative Party’s March policy convention, delegates voted to reject adding green-friendly statements to the policy book — including a line that would have stated the party believes “climate change is real” and is “willing to act.”

O’Toole responded by saying that Trudeau has “never made a target” on emissions.

WATCH: Trudeau, O’Toole debate climate change

Trudeau, O’Toole debate climate change

During the English leaders’ debate, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole respond to the question about how one in four Canadians do not believe climate change is caused by human activity. 2:11

“We need to talk about science, we need to talk about experts, we agree on that, you and I both,” Trudeau said to Singh. “So how is it that the experts that have rated our plan on climate to be an ‘A’ have rated your plan to be an ‘F’?”

The NDP’s climate plan has come under scrutiny in recent days, with Simon Fraser University environmental economist Mark Jaccard saying it would be “largely ineffective” and “unnecessarily costly.”  Former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, meanwhile, has endorsed the Liberal climate plan over that of the Green Party.

Singh said he gives Trudeau’s climate record an ‘F’ because emissions have continued to rise under his leadership.

In 2019 — the first year of the federal carbon pricing system, commonly called the “carbon tax” — Canada produced 730 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, an increase of one megatonne — 0.2 per cent — over 2018.


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