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Quebec Premier François Legault unveils his wish list to the leaders in the federal election at his office in Quebec City on Aug. 26, 2021, as Quebec Treasury Board president Sonia Lebel looks on.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec Premier François Legault weighed into the federal election campaign on Thursday, making health care and immigration his priorities and criticizing the Liberal and NDP platforms as out of step with nationalists in the province.

Mr. Legault took issue with Liberal and NDP proposals for new health care funding that would be tied to specific areas, such as long-term care. He said federal health care transfers should be enhanced substantially and then annual increases of 6 per cent locked in.

“I insist on no conditions,” he said at a news conference at Quebec’s National Assembly.

“Some federal parties are making targeted promises that are trying to decide health priorities on Quebec’s behalf,” he said. “What that means is more centralization and more bureaucracy. That’s not what we need. ... When you are a Quebec nationalist – I’m not saying sovereigntist, I’m saying nationalist: those who feel it’s important to have a nation with more autonomy – well, there are two parties that are more centralist: the Liberal Party and the NDP.”

The Premier praised Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s pledge to increase federal health transfers by 6 per cent a year, but said provinces also want an initial boost to the Canada Health Transfer.

Canadian federal election 2021: Latest updates and essential reading ahead of Sept. 20 vote

Mr. Legault said health care and immigration reform are the two “crucial” issues on a list of requests he laid out in a letter to all federal parties. He said he’s calling on federal leaders to support giving Quebec control over the family reunification category of immigration so it can impose language requirements.

“We need to remember that Quebec is an island of francophones in a sea of anglophones in North America. It’s math. If new immigrants don’t integrate, don’t learn French, well then, it’s the future of the French language, the future of our nation, that is at stake,” he said.

Quebec is a key battleground for all federal parties as it accounts for nearly a quarter of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. Quebec voters have also been the source of dramatic swings in party support in recent federal campaigns, adding a sense of unpredictability to how the province may vote on Sept. 20.

The Liberals won 35 of the province’s 78 seats in 2019, followed by 32 seats for the Bloc Québécois, 10 for the Conservatives and one for the NDP. Several candidates won by the slimmest of margins, including Liberal cabinet ministers Jean-Yves Duclos in a Quebec City area riding and Diane Lebouthillier in Gaspésie—Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

The first of three leaders debates is scheduled for next Thursday in Montreal, hosted by the French-language television network TVA. It is separate from French and English debates on Sept. 8 and 9 organized by the Leaders’ Debates Commission.

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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole speaks to the media in Ottawa on Aug. 26, 2021.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Mr. O’Toole responded to Mr. Legault’s demands in his opening campaign remarks on Thursday, saying if his party forms government, he will work on Quebec’s priorities with the Premier. He also said he would give the province more power over family reunification through the immigration system.

“A Conservative government will bring an end to the paternalism and intrusion of Justin Trudeau. Our approach will be a federalism of partnership,” he said in Ottawa.

He did not answer reporters’ questions on whether he would uphold the $6-billion agreement on child care the Liberal government struck with Quebec just before the election was called. Mr. O’Toole’s policy platform focuses on tax credits for families, not $10-a-day child care as the Liberals have proposed.

Mr. Legault said he expects Ottawa would honour a signed agreement regardless of the election’s outcome.

Quebec Liberal candidate François-Philippe Champagne, who holds the innovation, science and industry ministerial portfolio, said the federal Liberals and the Quebec provincial government have worked together on many files and have established a strong bond to serve Quebeckers.

“It is absolutely normal to see a provincial government on the eve of a national election to come with a number of demands,” he said at a campaign event with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and local candidate Martin Francoeur in Trois-Rivières.

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau waves to supporters at Patro Roc-Amadour community centre during his election campaign tour in Quebec City on Aug. 26, 2021.MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he’s ready to work with the Legault government.

“I fundamentally believe that the federal government must do more and provide all the necessary resources to the province to build a more prosperous, more sustainable, and fairer society for everyone,” he said in an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail. He added that the calls for increased health transfers are a part of this.

In Quebec City before Mr. Legault’s remarks, Mr. Trudeau said that, if re-elected, his government would boost the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) by $500 a year per person and $750 for couples, a move his party said would benefit 2.2 million seniors 65 and over.

The GIS is available to low-income pensioners who receive Old Age Security.

“After a lifetime of hard work, you shouldn’t have to worry about how to pay the rent or fill a prescription,” he said.

Asked on Thursday how an average of $42 a month would help low-income seniors, Mr. Trudeau said every dollar counts for many people. This reality has become particularly clear during the pandemic, when seniors have been “unbelievably vulnerable,” he added.

Federal election poll tracker: Follow the latest Nanos-Globe-CTV numbers ahead of the Sept. 20 vote

Laura Tamblyn Watts, the chief executive officer of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization, said on Thursday that low-income seniors desperately need an increase to the GIS as living costs skyrocket.

“While any increase is very welcome, an additional estimated $42 monthly does not come close to meeting that need,” she said.

For single seniors, GIS benefits kick in if they make less than $18,984 annually, with a monthly maximum of $936. The eligibility threshold for couples is $45,504.

In the 2021 budget, the Liberal government announced plans to boost Old Age Security payments by as much as $766 annually for people 75 or older starting next year. This summer, the government is sending all seniors in that age group $500, no matter their income.

Mr. O’Toole’s campaign announcement was a promise that a Conservative government would require gig-economy companies to make contributions equivalent to the Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance premiums into a special savings account for each worker when they are paid. He said the money would grow tax-free and could be used to pay CPP premiums or as accumulated savings the worker could withdraw when needed.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh records a video clip for social media during an election campaign stop at The Forks in Winnipeg on Aug. 26, 2021.SHANNON VANRAES/Reuters

Mr. Singh, the NDP Leader, was in Winnipeg on Thursday, and pledged support for affordable housing. He was also asked about Elections Canada’s decision to cancel on-campus voting in this election and said it was something he’s concerned about.

“I want to make sure voting is as easy as possible and as many people as possible can vote,” he said. He added that he’s encouraging Elections Canada to reconsider the decision.

Young Canadians are generally less likely to vote, prompting concern that the lack of on-campus polls could worsen voter turnout among youth. Elections Canada said in a statement this week it will not be able to run on-campus voting because of the challenges posed by “the pandemic and the minority government situation,” adding that the program takes months to plan.

With reports from Laura Stone and Menaka Raman-Wilms

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