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The Prime Minister will participate in at most three party-leader debates – down from five debates during the 2015 campaign.

Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau will participate in two televised federal election campaign debates, and perhaps a third, but his party says he won’t take part in the Munk foreign-policy and Maclean’s/Citytv debates.

As things stand, this means the Prime Minister will participate in at most three party-leader debates – down from five debates during the 2015 campaign.

Liberal Party spokesman Daniel Lauzon said the government set up an independent commission to arrange election debates and the commission came up with a plan for two: one in English and one in French. Mr. Trudeau is also considering participating in a debate organized by French-language network TVA, which is not part of the media consortium affiliated with the two commission debates.

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“We will participate in the commission debates and we are leaving the door open for one more,” Mr. Lauzon said.

He said the Maclean’s/Citytv debate, scheduled for Sept. 12, and the Munk debate, proposed for Oct. 1, are not in the cards. The Globe and Mail is a media sponsor of the Munk foreign-policy debate.

“Maclean’s and Munk are not commission debates and they are not TVA,” Mr. Lauzon said.

The Conservative Party accused the Liberals of ducking opportunities to debate. The official campaign for the next federal election, slated for Oct. 21, is expected to begin shortly.

“We know Justin Trudeau is a formidable debater, as he proved in the last election. The only reason he would have for not wanting to attend all the debates is that he’s afraid to defend his record,” Conservative spokesman Simon Jefferies said.

“These debates are not about Justin Trudeau and which ones he feels comfortable attending. They are about Canadians.”

He said the Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will attend all five debates.

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“Mr. Scheer looks forward to attending these two [other] proposed debates and talking about his plan to put more money in your pocket to help you get ahead.”

Paul Wells, a journalist and moderator of the Maclean’s/Citytv debate, called Mr. Trudeau’s decision disappointing. He said the Liberals informed debate organizers Thursday.

“The Liberal Leader’s decision not to participate in our debate is entirely legitimate. We sent him an invitation, not a summons. But it’s still disappointing.”

Mr. Wells said the debate will still proceed.

“It would be a better debate with all of the party leaders who were invited, but three national party leaders said yes and that’s absolutely enough to go ahead and so that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Liberals’ Mr. Lauzon defended the commission and its plan for two debates. He accused the Conservatives under former leader Stephen Harper of “gaming the system” in the 2015 election campaign debates.

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Rudyard Griffiths, chair of the Munk Debates, which is organizing the 2019 Munk Leaders Debate on Foreign Policy, said he’s still holding out hope that Mr. Trudeau might attend.

He said a foreign-policy debate is extremely timely.

“We have probably one of the most challenging moments for Canadian foreign policy in a generation,” he said, citing Donald Trump, China, Russia, Hong Kong protests, and the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Mr. Griffiths said a reduction in leaders debates is bad for Canada. “We had five debates in 2015. If we ended up with only three debates in 2019, that’s a step back for the democratic process.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Mr. Trudeau was avoiding accountability.

“We’re disappointed. Canadians deserve better. This is not the new politics Mr. Trudeau promised,” Mr. Singh said in a statement.

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