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Politics Trudeau invokes father’s ghost in emotional foreign policy debate

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair participate in the Munk Debate on Canada's foreign policy in Toronto, on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2015.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Justin Trudeau invoked his father's ghost Monday night in an election leaders' debate that was far more emotional and animated than the dry foreign affairs subject matter might have suggested.

The debate, the fourth of five during the extraordinarily long, 78-day election campaign, was also remarkable for the capacity crowd of more than 3,000 paying — and occasionally partisan — patrons at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall.

The large live audience helped animate the well-paced debate with applause and laughter that punctuated the three leaders' most cogent points.

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Trudeau, the Liberal leader who was considered to have the most to lose in a two-hour debate on foreign policy, came out swinging.

On Syrian refugees, Trudeau drew applause when he invoked nearby Ireland Park in Toronto, where he said 38,000 Irish arrived in 1847 fleeing the potato famine. They arrived to a city of 20,000 citizens.

But it was under NDP attack for supporting the contentious Conservative security bill, C-51, that Trudeau reminded viewers of his famous prime minister father.

"Throughout this campaign, in direct references and indirect references, both of these gentlemen have at various points attacked my father," Mr. Trudeau said. "Let me say very clearly, I am incredibly proud to be Pierre Elliott Trudeau's son. And I am incredibly lucky to have been raised with those values."

"It's quite emotional for me to be able to talk about him, because it was 15 years ago tonight that he passed away, on Sept. 28, 2000. And I know he wouldn't want us to be fighting the battles of the past. He'd want us squarely focused on the future and how we're going to respond to Canadians' needs, and that's what we're doing tonight."

Trudeau also said that "when we talk about the legacy that my father leaves behind, first and foremost is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has defined Canada as a country that stands up for individual rights, even against governments that want to take those away."

Later, in an exchange about legislation that allows the government to strip citizenship from Canadians in certain circumstances, he followed up on that point when he told the Conservative Leader: "You devalue the citizenship of every Canadian in this place and in this country when you break down and make it conditional for anybody ... We have a rule of law in this country and you can't take away citizenship of an individual because you don't like what someone does."

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