Leaders trade jabs in debate but Canadian voters are as confused as ever

With less than two weeks to go before Canadians hit the polls to elect a new government, the leaders of the country’s five major political parties have squared off on a range of topics, from mandatory Covid-19 vaccines to climate change and housing affordability in the two French and one English language debates. But voters who were hoping to get some clarity on the various political platforms came away with nothing as the leaders traded jabs rather than state their policies.

On Wednesday, a survey conducted by Canadian polling firm Leger Marketing Inc. for Postmedia put the governing Liberals in a 33 per cent tie with the opposition Conservative Party. In such a tight race, the main focus of attention was on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is hoping to lead the Liberal Party into a third term in office, and his main rival, Erin O’Toole, in his first electoral outing as Conservative leader.

Trudeau was on the defensive as his opponents critiqued his term in office and called out his decision to hold an election amidst a pandemic.

The Liberal leader sought to contrast his government’s decision to impose a mandatory vaccine requirement for the federal civil service and on travellers taking trains or planes, with O’Toole’s position promoting such vaccination alternatives as rapid testing and mask-wearing.

Some conservative voters, especially those who support the right-wing People’s Party of Canada, are adamant anti-vaxxers, and have targeted Trudeau on the campaign trail with angry and violent protests in which people have screamed obscenities at him, and recently, hurled gravel at him.

Nearly 70 per cent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated, and that constituency could have a favourable view of Trudeau’s leadership in obtaining doses when voters choose the next federal government on September 20.

But his government’s record on climate action might not be as impressive for Canadians at the ballot box as the leaders of the left-of-centre New Democratic and Green parties highlighted in the Wednesday night debate.

Carbon emissions have increased under Trudeau’s watch, said Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party.

As Prime Minister, Singh said he would focus on investing in renewable energy, an idea backed by Green Party leader Annamie Paul, who also favours ending Canadian government support for the fossil-fuel industry.

If the debate was meant help voters decide which party to support, it failed miserably.