As three leaders prepare to debate, Trudeau accused of ducking record

Liberal leader to be absent from first debate, hosted by the Maclean’s and CityTV, in Toronto

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau greets the crowd during a campaign stop in Vancouver on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Justin Trudeau is afraid to run on his record, his rivals charged Thursday — but with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer again fielding questions about abortion and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh deep in Liberal territory in Ontario, all three found themselves wading through the muck of past political messes on Day 2 of the federal election campaign.

The Conservative, NDP and Green leaders largely spent the day hunkered down in preparation for the Maclean’s/CITY TV debate, scheduled to take place later Thursday in Toronto, but Scheer and Singh both emerged briefly to pitch their priorities on taxes and health care.

Trudeau, under fire for opting to skip the first debate, said he’ll stick to the official debates next month and a third in French hosted by TVA. And he suggested he’d prefer to be on the campaign trail in B.C. and Alberta anyway.

“The opportunity to get out across this country, speak with Canadians, listen to them, and talk about how we are going to build a better future for everyone and how we’re going to choose a better future for everyone is at the core of what this election is all about for me,” he said in Victoria, where he announced an expansion of a program to help first-time homebuyers.

“I’m going to keep doing that.”

Scheer said he wasn’t surprised Trudeau would be a no-show, given the recent Globe and Mail reports that have thrust the SNC-Lavalin affair back into the headlines. But the Liberal leader is also gun-shy when it comes to talking about Canada’s place in the world, he added.

“I note that this evening, a part of the debate will be focused on foreign affairs,” said Scheer, who was in Toronto to highlight a promised tax credit on maternity and paternity benefits.

“And if there’s one area where Justin Trudeau’s failures have been so visible to Canadians, so evident that Canadians can immediately understand, it’s on the subject of foreign affairs.”

Singh said he’s disappointed Trudeau has decided to skip the event, as Canadians expect him to show up and defend his record.

“His record is pretty abysmal but that doesn’t mean he should give up on the debate,” he said after an event in Brampton, Ont.

READ MORE: Federal party leaders set to dive into Day 2 of the election campaign

Singh launched his first federal campaign from the Brampton area in 2011, losing to a Conservative. In 2015, the area’s five ridings were all scooped up by the Liberals. On Thursday, he fielded questions — including one in Punjabi, which he speaks fluently — about why Liberal supporters should pivot his way this time around.

He promised to be a prime minister who responds directly to the area’s concerns, highlighted by his promise of the day: funds to build and expand hospitals to serve the booming population of the area.

The Greens were dealing with their own candidate issues, moving swiftly to remove a candidate in an Ontario riding. A social media post had shown Erik Schomann helping roast a pig, with the caption suggesting the leftovers would be mailed to Muslims. Members of white supremacist groups often suggest mailing pigs as a way to threaten Muslims. Pork is forbidden in Islam.

While Green party Leader Elizabeth May was set to participate in Thursday night’s debate, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was excluded from the lineup.

He took his campaign to his home riding of Beauce, in Quebec, the lone seat his party currently holds. He said it was funny that the satirical Rhinoceros Party has found someone with the same name to run against him in his hometown, but feels voters are smart enough to make the right choice.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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