TORONTO (AP) — The leaders of Canada’s opposition parties criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for calling parliamentary elections during a pandemic, speaking Wednesday night during their second debate of the campaign.
Trudeau called the vote last month hoping to win a majority of seats in Parliament, but polls indicate his Liberal party could lose power to the Conservatives in the Sept, 20 election.
“Why did you call an election, Mr. Trudeau, in the middle of the pandemic,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said during the French-language debate.
“Canadians need to have a say how we get out of this,” Trudeau responded.
Trudeau had wanted to capitalize on the fact that Canada is now one of the most fully vaccinated countries in the world, with more than 77% of Canadians 12 years and older having gotten the coronavirus shots.
“We invested enough money to put us at the top of the list in the world,” Trudeau said in French.
Canada, however, is in a fourth wave of infections driven by the delta variant and by those who remain unvaccinated.
“The only reason you called an election was a selfish reason, to obtain more power,” Jagmeet Singh, leader of the leftist New Democrat party, said to Trudeau.
Singh's party propped up Trudeau's Liberal party on most issues during the last sessions of Parliament. The Liberals didn't have a majority of seats in the House of Commons and had to rely on Singh's party to pass legislation.
A spirited Trudeau defended his identity as a Quebecer in a heated exchange with the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet, who leads a party that believes Quebec should be its own nation separate from Canada.
Blanchet asked Trudeau why he feels he can tell Quebec what to do and think.
“I am a Quebecer," Trudeau said. "I am proud of being a Quebecer. You do not have the unanimity on Quebec.”
Daniel Beland, a politics professor at McGill University in Montreal, said Trudeau held his ground.
“That was the most dramatic moment of the debate and probably the one during which Trudeau shined the most. His plea was passionate and he seemed genuine and credible,” Beland said.
“It might help Trudeau in Quebec and perhaps beyond. If he can offer a similar performance tomorrow evening in the English-language debate, this could help shape the course of the last stretch of the campaign. The pressure on O’Toole will be enormous to deliver a stronger performance.”
Trudeau, the son of the late Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, became the second youngest prime minister in Canadian history when he was first elected with a majority of seats in Parliament in 2015 after almost a decade of Conservative Party government.
But there is some fatigue with Trudeau after six years, and scandals combined with high expectations have damaged his image for some Canadians. He won re-election in 2019 but with less than a majority of the seats.