Liberal leader Justin Trudeau had one goal during the French-speaking leaders’ debate on Wednesday: to expose voters what they would get from Prime Minister Erin O’Toole.

Although the contrasts on climate change, child care, vaccines and gun control are clear and Trudeau struck a few blows, the debate format, which allowed few interactions between Trudeau and O’Toole, seemed to take away the pain for most. of the attacks.

Liberals and conservatives go hand-in-hand in most public opinion polls, suggesting that either party could form a government, but the Grits worry that many progressive voters expect them to win regardless. A survey of Abacus facts this week suggested that a significant percentage of NDP supporters plan to vote for Jagmeet Singh’s party, but want Justin Trudeau to be prime minister.

Highlighting the stakes in this campaign is Trudeau’s greatest challenge. But judging from Wednesday’s performance, the task has yet to be accomplished. Trudeau has had three weeks to rehearse his answer as to why he sent Canadians to the polls; During the debate, the best he could do was suggest that it was because O’Toole doesn’t want people on planes and trains to be vaccinated.

For a Quebec audience, Trudeau’s best effort was to point out that the Conservatives’ plan on child care will do little for families, including the less fortunate, who will not benefit from the Conservatives tax credit or the 37,000 day care centers in Quebec that won ‘Build without the federal cash that the liberals have promised.

O’Toole had so far refused to say in the election campaign whether he would keep the August child care agreement signed by Trudeau and Quebec Prime Minister Yves François Legault, which granted the province an unconditional transfer of $ 6 billion. for five years.

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But on Wednesday night, just two hours before the debate began, the Conservatives finally made it clear that they would not honor the deal when they launched their platform with costs and the money was missing.

For those outside of Quebec who watched the debate unfold, it was only in the last few minutes that Trudeau really unleashed himself on O’Toole, accusing him of not having the required leadership skills.

He accused the Conservative leader of hiding his true intentions when it came to gun control and making deals with special interest groups. “As you are doing with vaccines, as you do when you say you are in favor of abortion, but 80 of your MPs voted against … the election of a woman, you are doing it on the climate by going back to Stephen Harper ( goals), ”Trudeau said. “This is weak leadership that he is offering.”

O’Toole replied. “Mr. Trudeau will say anything to win. I’m pro-choice.”

“He’s a pro-abortion leader,” Trudeau responded, “but he can’t get his MPs to follow him. They are not following him up on vaccinations. It cannot even vaccinate its own MPs. ”

If Trudeau expected it to be easy for him to score points for O’Toole’s lack of clarity, he may have underestimated Singh.

After being criticized for staying on the sidelines during the TVA-in-French debate last week, the NDP leader was ready to fight.

He reminded the audience that the Liberals had promised childcare for 30 years.

“If Trudeau really wanted to do something, why did he launch an election instead of continuing the work? It is completely unacceptable and people cannot believe in Mr. Trudeau, ”said Singh.

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Support for the NDP has stalled and the party worries that its supporters will once again lend liberals their vote to avoid a Conservative government.

In his opening remarks, Singh told voters they had two options in this election: Trudeau or the NDP. Forget the other three party leaders on stage.

But perhaps Singh’s most devastating line of attack was the one that has plagued Trudeau during the first three weeks of the campaign: the timing of the election call. “It was a bad decision,” Singh told the audience. “It was for a selfish reason. It’s not the right thing to do, ”he said, referring to the liberals’ desire for a majority government.

If the Liberals want another term, Trudeau must convince voters that the ballot issue should not be a referendum on him, whether the voters like or support this election, but on O’Toole and if they like the election. political agenda proposed by conservatives.

Judging by the performance of this debate, the liberal leader has more work to do. Luckily for him, there is another debate on Thursday.

Althia Raj is a national policy columnist for the Star in Ottawa. Follow her on Twitter: @althiara


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