Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole faced a barrage of questions about the views of his candidates on climate change and social issues as he and four other federal leaders participated in back-to-back live French language television interviews Sunday evening.
Mr. O’Toole was asked by the Radio Canada hosts whether he condemns a conspiracy theory promoted online by Conservative MP and candidate Cheryl Gallant that the Liberals are planning a “climate lockdown.” He was also asked whether a member of his caucus who is either anti-abortion or unvaccinated could be appointed as minister of health in a Conservative government.
Mr. O’Toole avoided answering those questions directly, opting instead to state that he is the Conservative Party leader and he is pro-choice, vaccinated, serious about climate change and in favour of a positive campaign.
“I’m a new leader with a new approach,” he said in reference to his party’s climate-change plan.
“We have a price on carbon. That is a change for our party, certainly. But it is very important for our plan to reach our objectives.”
On whether his candidates and MPs should be vaccinated, he said: “All our candidates must be vaccinated or receive daily testing. ... We need to work together and respect personal decisions.”
The high-profile live and in-studio interviews kicked off a week of campaigning that will include a heavy focus on winning over Quebec voters.
On Thursday, the party leaders will return to Montreal for the TVA French language leaders’ debate. That is separate from the official French and English debates on Sept. 8 and 9, which are organized by the Leaders’ Debates Commission.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who was interviewed first on Sunday evening, also faced questions about his approach to climate change, including why Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen under his government’s watch. Mr. Trudeau blamed the policies of former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper – who was defeated in the 2015 federal election – and said his government’s new targets and plan would work.
Mr. Trudeau was also asked if the spike in the national debt because of COVID-19 spending will leave the next generation with tremendous costs. The Liberal Leader said his party has a plan to reduce the debt as a share of the economy.
“We took on debt so that people wouldn’t have to go into debt,” he said.
The Liberal Leader faced several questions about his decision to appoint Mary Simon as Governor-General despite her lack of French. He said he recommended her appointment because a symbol of Indigenous reconciliation was needed.
Mr. Trudeau said he understood that many francophones didn’t like the appointment of a viceroy who does not speak French; there have been about 600 complaints to the Official Languages Commissioner. But he rejected the idea that the appointment was an error.
“No. It was not a mistake,” he said. “Listen, I thought a long time about that choice. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to do.” He argued he’s been a defender of bilingualism.
“But we are in a moment now where I think Mary Simon should be the exception – not a precedent, but the exception. Because our country needs to better understand and be there for Indigenous communities. That’s everybody’s business, and Mary has the capacity to bring people together.”
Mr. O’Toole also defended the appointment.
“I think it’s possible to improve your French. … I work on it every day,” he said. “It’s very important to have Indigenous leaders at this time.”
Ms. Simon, from Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec, speaks Inuktitut and English, but is not fluent in French. On taking the post, she promised to learn the language. Mr. Trudeau said he spoke a little French with her he met her recently – presumably when he asked her to dissolve Parliament and trigger the current election campaign.
Language is often a touchstone in Quebec during election campaigns, and in this campaign the debate has so far revolved around extending Quebec’s language protections to companies under federal jurisdiction – something requested by Quebec Premier François Legault.
Mr. Legault, a popular premier, recently characterized the Liberal and NDP promises on health care as “centralist” because they are tied to specific priorities in health care, which is an area of provincial jurisdiction.
But Mr. Trudeau insisted he can work in “partnership” with provinces and he noted that he and Mr. Legault have struck several major bilateral funding deals during the pandemic.
Radio-Canada interviewed Mr. Trudeau and Mr. O’Toole for about 30 minutes each. Shorter interviews followed with Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul.
Quebec’s 78 seats represent nearly a quarter of the 338-seat House of Commons.
In his interview, Mr. Blanchet made a blunt pitch to Quebeckers to vote for Bloc candidates to prevent any federal party from obtaining a majority government, arguing that the Bloc can then use its influence to obtain benefits for Quebec, no matter which party is in power.
“I maintain that whoever forms government, if it is a minority government, we will continue to make gains for Quebec,” he said.
He rebuffed questions about which party could form a minority government that would be best for Quebec. “That would make me feel like I was interfering in the affairs of Canada,” he joked.
In 2019, the Liberals won 35 seats in Quebec, followed by 32 for the BQ, 10 for the Conservatives and one for the NDP.
Mr. Singh was asked about his opposition to private long-term health care homes for seniors.
“For-profit centres had the worst conditions,” he said, in reference to experiences during the pandemic. “We need to find a solution.”
On climate change and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which is under construction, he said an NDP government would need to evaluate the situation given that it is a project in progress.
“If I was Prime Minister, we never would have bought a pipeline,” he said.
Ms. Paul, the Green Party Leader, was asked about recent internal divisions in her party. She said all parties have internal issues but Greens come together during election campaigns.
On climate change, Ms. Paul said her party has the strongest platform.
“We are the only party that is proposing a credible plan that respects the science,” she said.