The federal election debate on foreign policy has been cancelled because of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s refusal to participate, the lead organizer says.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Rudyard Griffiths, chair of the Munk Debates, said the debate has been cancelled because of Mr. Trudeau’s “refusal to debate.” Mr. Trudeau has faced criticism over his decision to take part in only three leaders’ debates ahead of the Oct. 21 election – down from five during the 2015 campaign.
“It’s really unfortunate that Canadians are not going to have a standalone debate on foreign policy this election," Mr. Griffiths said.
“With everything that’s going on the world, if there ever was a moment, if there ever was a time, to really focus on the competing foreign-policy platforms of the various parties contending for government, now is that moment.”
The Globe and Mail had agreed to be a media sponsor of the Munk debate.
Mr. Trudeau already refused to take part in the Maclean’s/Citytv debate earlier this month. Mr. Trudeau will take part in two televised debates organized by an independent commission the Liberal government established – one in English and another in French.
“The commission was established after the last election where the governing party tried to game the system and make sure the fewest number of Canadians engaged in the debates. We think that’s wrong,” Guy Gallant, a Liberal campaign spokesman, said in a statement on Monday.
Mr. Trudeau will also participate in another debate hosted by French-language network TVA, which is not part of the media consortium affiliated with the two commission debates.
Mr. Griffiths said the Munk debate gave Mr. Trudeau until Tuesday to respond to an invitation, but “never had the courtesy of a formal response from the Liberal Party," leading to the decision to cancel. He said debate organizers considered going ahead with only opposition party leaders, but decided Mr. Trudeau’s absence would "fundamentally undermine the value of the exercise.”
More broadly, Mr. Griffiths expressed concern about the direction of election debates in Canada.
“It seems like the commission has become a vehicle for an incumbent prime minister to actually avoid other debates and that it’s actually working against this whole process of opening the election," he said.
The opposition parties, which agreed to have their leaders take part in the Munk debate, accused Mr. Trudeau of avoiding his opponents.
“It’s a shame that voters won’t have the opportunity to hear political leaders discussing issues of global importance because Justin Trudeau was too afraid to defend his record of failure,” Conservative campaign spokesman Simon Jefferies said.
NDP spokeswoman Melanie Richer said the party is not surprised to hear Mr. Trudeau “doesn’t want to answer to his record.”
“Canadians deserve better. This is not the new politics Mr. Trudeau promised," Ms. Richer said.
The Green Party said Mr. Trudeau’s refusal to participate “undermines Canadian democracy."