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An empty place at the table marks the spot where Conservative candidate Julian Fantino was supposed to sit at a candidate's debate in Vaughan, Ont.

With less than a week to go before a by-election in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan, Liberals and Conservatives kept the pressure up Tuesday as their candidates went toe-to-toe for the first time in a debate.

In the morning, Tory candidate Julian Fantino held a press conference to announce that, if elected, he would push the government to commit infrastructure funding to build a hospital in Vaughan.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the Liberals got a motion passed at a committee meeting compelling the Ontario Provincial Police to provide a breakdown of the force's policing costs during the G8 and G20 summits last June, when Mr. Fantino was OPP commissioner, by Wednesday afternoon. The force is already set to release those numbers next week, but Liberal MPs want them made public before the Monday vote.

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The by-election, in one of the coveted Toronto-area ridings that both parties are expected to target in the next federal election, is being closely watched as a sign of their respective momentum.

Liberal candidate Tony Genco, who has spent the past two weeks accusing Mr. Fantino of avoiding debating him, had his apparent wish granted when the pair faced off, along with five other candidates, at a debate taped by Rogers television.

But he continued to criticize his opponent when the former Toronto police chief bowed out of a second debate Tuesday evening, because it conflicted with a memorial mass for his father-in-law.

"I was disappointed Mr. Fantino couldn't come here to defend Conservative Party values and do what he had to do," Mr. Genco said afterward. "We've been challenging him forever and he just doesn't want to come."

At that debate, organizers left a chair empty with a nametag for Mr. Fantino.

Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto and expert in Canadian politics, said Mr. Fantino's campaign was being directed by his party's leadership, which had likely decided there was no point in exposing him to a public debate.

Mr. Fantino's press secretary, Stephen Lecce, dismissed any notion that his candidate was shirking public discussion, pointing to the Rogers debate.

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"Julian was pleased to participate in a debate that included questions from the public and the moderator," Mr. Lecce said.

The seat was held by long-serving MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, who resigned earlier this year to run for mayor of Vaughan, an election he won last month.

Also running are Kevin Bordian of the New Democratic Party, Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain of the Greens and several candidates representing smaller parties.

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