Trudeau emerges unscathed from first Canadian leaders' election debate

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OTTAWA, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Unlike past Canadian election debates that found the prime minister defending his government's record, Justin Trudeau emerged from his first leaders' exchange in the current campaign relatively unscathed, despite a string of scandals from the past year previously thought to imperil his quest for a second term as Canada's 23rd prime minister.

None of the three opposition party leaders raised the recent controversy involving Trudeau wearing brownface and blackface in photos and a video in a televised French-language debate broadcast Wednesday evening by the largest private broadcaster in the French-speaking province of Quebec, which is home to Trudeau and where his Liberal Party is leading in the polls.

On the SNC-Lavalin affair, in which Trudeau reportedly tried to politically interfere in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec-based construction giant on fraud and corruption charges, the leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois leader attacked the Conservative Party leader for failing to defend the jobs that could be lost if SNC is convicted of the charges.

Indeed, it was Conservative Andrew Scheer, whose party held official opposition status in the last Canadian Parliament, who was put on the hot seat during the two-hour debate as a man out of step with Quebec's social values.

On abortion, Trudeau, the Bloc's Yves-Francois Blanchet and Jagmeet Singh, leader of the left-of-center New Democratic Party pressed Scheer, whose party includes a strong social conservative base, to express his opinion on a woman's right to choose. He would only say that a Conservative government would not impose restrictions on abortion, which is legal in Canada, but told reporters on Thursday that he personally opposes it.

On medically assisted death, which Trudeau's Liberal government legalized and which Quebec's highest court recently found to be too restrictive, Scheer said a Conservative government would appeal the ruling to obtain more clarity. Trudeau said his government would comply with the decision.

On climate action, Scheer called Trudeau a "fake environmentalist" and a hypocrite because the Liberal leader's campaign is using two carbon-emitting planes. Trudeau countered that the Grits purchased carbon offsets.

And while the Trudeau government's commitment to addressing climate change has faced criticism for its multibillion dollar purchase of Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion project to transport crude oil to Canada's Pacific coast, Scheer was singled out in the debate for the Conservative proposal to construct a national energy corridor through Quebec which the provincial government opposes.

This is not to suggest that Trudeau, who represented a Montreal riding in the House of Commons, was not at odds with public sentiment in Quebec during the leaders' skirmish.

He said that if his Liberals remain in power after the Oct. 21 election, his government would challenge a controversial yet popular law in Quebec that prohibits public servants, such as police officers and teachers, from wearing religious symbols.

During the Canadian election campaign four years ago, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper toyed with the idea of banning public servants from wearing face coverings, such as the Muslim niqab.

Trudeau called the idea un-Canadian and his Liberals toppled the Tories in 2015.

The incumbent, second-generation prime minister is counting on his and his late father Pierre Trudeau's pan-Canadian view on inclusiveness resonating with voters next week when Trudeau participates in two nationally televised debates. Enditem

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