Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer used the last debate of the campaign to urge Quebeckers to vote for a party that has a shot at forming the next government instead of allowing the Bloc Québécois to return as a political force on the federal stage.
The French-language debate was less chaotic than Monday’s English-language debate, with a single moderator directing exchanges throughout the evening. Leaders were frequently divided into groups of three to reduce the risk of indecipherable shouting.
The Liberal Leader called on Quebeckers to be part of a government that would fight conservative leaders in various provinces and oil companies.
“The Bloc is looking to bring Quebeckers back to the opposition benches," Mr. Trudeau said. "Quebeckers have to think long and hard whether they want to be part of a government that wants to fight climate change and work hand-in-hand with the Quebec government on shared priorities.”
Mr. Scheer said his Conservative Party was the only way to replace the Liberals in Ottawa, arguing “with many Bloc MPs, Justin Trudeau will remain Prime Minister.”
Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose party is entering the last leg of the campaign with a sense of momentum, countered his party would be the best way to defend the province’s interests in the House of Commons.
“They always say, ‘A vote for the Bloc is a vote for the Liberals’ or ‘A vote for the Bloc is a vote for the Conservatives,’” he said. “A vote for the Bloc is a vote for Quebec.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party is fighting to keep its presence in Quebec, said he was bothered by the Bloc’s argument.
“Quebec is a diversity of opinions, a diversity of regions and a diversity of voices. You don’t have a monopoly over Quebec,” he told Mr. Blanchet.
Advance polls will be open from Friday to Monday, with the general election to be held on Oct. 21.
The event was the first and only opportunity for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier to take part in a French-language debate. Neither were invited to one broadcast by the Quebecor media empire on Oct. 2.
The decision to divide the candidates into groups during Thursday’s debate meant few opportunities for Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer to challenge each other directly.
Pipeline politics threaten to hinder Liberal pitch to progressive voters
The discussion of the economy was the only time the two were grouped together for a debate. While most of the evening was calm, the exchange between the Liberal and Conservative leaders was often heated as each accused the other of lying.
Mr. Scheer said the Liberals promised short-term deficits during the 2015 campaign to pay for new infrastructure, yet the Liberal record is one of larger-than-promised deficits and slower infrastructure spending.
Mr. Trudeau countered that Canadians can see projects under construction across the country. When a moderator asked about the risk of a global recession, the Liberal Leader said Canada has a strong credit rating and federal finances are healthy enough to respond should that occur.
“Our plan is responsible and financially reasonable,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Mr. Scheer faced questions from moderators and Mr. Trudeau over the fact that he has not yet released a detailed platform showing how he would erase the federal deficit within five years. The Conservative platform will be released on Friday in Vancouver.
Mr. Scheer said he has already announced the main areas of savings, including a 25 per cent reduction in foreign aid spending and cuts to corporate subsidies.
“We will balance the budget in five years, and all our announcements have been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office,” Mr. Scheer said.
Mr. Bernier, who promises to erase the deficit within two years and then focus on cutting taxes, said neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are proposing a fiscally responsible plan.
“They say they will balance the budget in five years, but are asking for a four-year mandate,” Mr. Bernier said of the Conservatives, his former party. “So no one will balance the budget… It’s irresponsible… the national credit card is full.”
During a discussion on the environment, Ms. May invoked the rallying message of teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg in calling for a far more aggressive government approach on climate change.
“We are too close to the point of no return. We must avoid the worst,” she said.
Mr. Singh said Ottawa should cancel all subsidies for oil and gas, including the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
He said the leaders of the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the People’s Party could each be called “Mr. Pipeline.”
“My name is Jagmeet Singh and I won’t impose a pipeline in Quebec," he said.
Mr. Trudeau defended his plan, stating that it is making progress toward reducing emissions.
“We know that transition can’t happen overnight,” he said.
There were sparks at one point between Mr. Scheer and Mr. Bernier, two former colleagues in the Conservative caucus. “You won’t even win in your riding of Beauce,” Mr. Scheer told Mr. Bernier at one point.
Mr. Scheer frequently accused Mr. Blanchet of pretending he is an ally of Quebec’s Coalition Avenir Québec government, but that his ultimate plan is to help the separatist Parti Québécois to return to power. Mr. Blanchet reaffirmed that he is a sovereigntist, but said his decisions will be based on the defence of Quebec’s interests.
The leaders were unanimous on some topics, such as imposing new taxes on large internet companies and tougher penalties on companies that fail to protect the privacy of their clients.