Trudeau tries to boost re-election campaign after inconclusive debate

The debate, widely criticized for its format, was largely seen as inconclusive

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, left to right, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole take part in the federal election English-language leaders’ debate September 9.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau entered the crucial last stage of his re-election campaign after an inconclusive leaders’ debate late last week, in which he failed to land many blows on his main rival.

Trudeau, who heads a minority government that depends on the opposition to pass legislation, called the Sept. 20 election, two years early, in an effort to capitalize on his Liberal government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the 49-year-old leader, who has been in power for six years, has struggled to make a mark on the campaign trail amid voter fatigue and the public’s unhappiness with the early election call.

Polls show the Conservatives led by Erin O’Toole, 48, have a slight lead and could win enough seats to form a government. O’Toole, who has had little chance to introduce himself to voters since becoming the leader of the Conservatives last year, says Trudeau is corrupt and will run up unsustainable debts.

Trudeau’s government racked up record levels of debt with programs to help dull the economic impact of the pandemic, aid which he said helped the economy recover more quickly.

Statistics Canada said 90,200 jobs were added in August and the unemployment rate fell to 7.1 per cent, the lowest since the onset of the pandemic.

Trudeau and O’Toole, along with the leaders of three smaller parties, took part in a two-hour televised debate Sept. 9 night. The debate can be an important way to attract voters, but its complex format meant leaders often talked over each other and gave Trudeau few chances to score points on O’Toole.

Three senior Liberals with a direct role in running the campaign said the evening had been a disappointment.

“Worst debate ever,” one said in a message. The Liberal sources requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

Frank Graves of the EKOS polling firm dismissed the event as “possibly the most vacuous and tedious debate in Canadian political history.”

A rolling Nanos Research poll of 1,200 voters on the day of the debate showed the Conservatives with 33.3 per cent support and the Liberals at 31.3 per cent. The New Democrats had 19.2 per cent.

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