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‘How can people trust you?’: Trudeau faces heat from all leaders during Canadian federal election debate

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In the second federal election debate this week, Justin Trudeau, Erin O'Toole, Jagmeet Singh, Yves-François Blanchet and Annamie Paul came together to debate key issues less than two weeks before the Sept. 20 election day.

Trudeau called out for not being a 'real feminist'

Annamie Paul speaks about Trudeau's feminist record at the Canadian federal election debate
Annamie Paul speaks about Trudeau's feminist record at the Canadian federal election debate

One question put forward for Trudeau and Paul was related to the Liberal leader calling himself a feminist, while rampant sexual misconduct continues in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Trudeau stressed that there are institutions that need to change across Canada, while adding that the Liberals have "stepped up" with policies to support survivors.

"This is not an issue with easy answers," Trudeau said. "You have to fall back on process."

The Green Party leader responded by saying that she does not believe Trudeau is a "real feminist."

A feminist doesn't continue to push strong women out of his party when they are just seeking to serve.Annamie Paul to Justin Trudeau

She went on to thank Jane Philpott, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Celina Caesar-Chavez.

"I believe that if there were more women on this platform tonight and in previous years that we, in fact, would have better laws in our military, we would have child care at this point, we would have many of the things that we need. I am the only woman, other than Elizabeth May, to be on this platform in the last 18 years. The Liberal Party has never had a woman leading. I think that it's time for the party to examine its priorities."

Trudeau jumped back in saying that he won't take "lessons on caucus management" from Paul, after the Green Party's internal controversy.

'Canada's voice has been absent'

The party leaders were also asked about Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor still being detained in China. While Trudeau maintained that the Liberals have worked with international allies and "put pressure" on China, O'Toole refuted that point.

"Canada's voice has been absent," the Conservative leader said. "We have to get serious with China."

O'Toole highlighted that Canada has not "fought" for the two Michaels and did not stand up for human rights, particularly after Trudeau did not show up for a vote declaring a genocide towards the Uighur people.

"We are out of step and our allies are wondering where Canada has gone," he added.

If you want to get the Michaels home you do not simply lob tomatoes across the Pacific. That is what Mr. Harper tried for a number of years and didn't get anywhere.Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party of Canada leader

'Six years and he failed'

In a relatively heated debate, the NDP leader called out the Liberals for not taking enough action on climate change, linking disasters like forest fires, flooding and heat waves as the "cost of inaction."

"Six years and he failed," Singh said. "He failed all of us."

You've got the worst track record in all the G7 after six years. How can people trust you?Jagmeet Singh, NDP leader

Trudeau maintained that the Liberals are "on track" to exceed its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030.

'Taking a knee' one day and 'taking Indigenous kids to court' the next

Reconciliation was one of the debate topics on Thursday evening.

The NDP leader called out Trudeau for "taking a knee" one day and "taking Indigenous kids to court" the next day.

"What's damaging reconciliation is Mr. Trudeau looking Indigenous people in the eyes and saying I'm going to deliver clean drinking water and then breaking that promise," Singh said in his remarks following the debate.

Trudeau stressed that his government has worked with Indigenous leader groups, Indigenous women's groups on an action place to "put an end" to the ongoing national tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Blanchet and O'Toole were asked a question about how they are "better positioned" to tackle reconciliation.

Blanchet said that he is not better positioned than O'Toole because he believes this is a relationship "between nations" and he feels they represent different nations. The Bloc Québécois leader added that his party has said that it would share its seats with First Nations in order to allow them to be heard by the whole country. 

O'Toole said that more action needs to happen faster, highlighting that all party leaders care about reconciliation but "we can no longer say that we recognize the call to action, we need a plan to achieve them," stressing that the Conservative plan focusing on building partnerships.

When asked about Indigenous child welfare, and how poverty and trauma issues will be addressed, Paul stressed that what's missing is the "political will" to take on the recommendations from Indigenous leadership.

"What we are missing is those who have been in power for a very long time making space for new voices and diverse voices," she said.

'Those laws are not about discrimination'

Blanchet was also asked about Quebec's discriminatory laws, including Bill 21, which bans civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

"Those laws are not about discrimination they are about the values of Quebec," he said. "We are saying that those are legitimate laws that apply on Quebec territory and there seem to be people around here who will share this point of view, which is again, by itself, for Quebec."

Paul said she had to "pull her jaw up" when she heard what Blanchet said, extending an invitation for him to "get educated about systemic discrimination."

"I would be happy to educate him," the Green Party leader said.

'Crisis' hitting Canadian families

In the debate, Trudeau, O'Toole and Paul were asked, with inflation at its highest level in a decade, what their message is to Canadians who are "struggling to make ends meet."

The Conservative leader claimed that Trudeau is "oblivious" to the fact that there is a "crisis" hitting families.

"Bills are going up, there's a housing crisis...and he's making it worse," O'Toole said.

Paul stressed that in her riding there are people who are spending more than half of her income on services like child care and living in inadequate housing.

"We have got to learn the lessons of the pandemic and make sure that we have a social safety net in place that lets everyone live with dignity," she said. 

"When we invest in our people we are investing in our future and this is the time for us to do that. It costs us not to do it."

Trudeau maintained that the Liberals kept their promise to "have your backs" during the pandemic, which needs to extend beyond this particular time, highlighting the Liberal $10 per day child care proposal and a national housing plan, which includes investment to build more houses.

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