10/03/2019 00:45 EDT | Updated 10/03/2019 11:31 EDT

5 Standout Moments From The 1st French Leaders’ Debate

The leaders sparred over abortion rights and campaign planes.

Four federal party leaders faced off Wednesday in the first 2019 election debate to include Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. The debate on TVA — the largest private television station in Quebec — featured Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois Yves-François Blanchet.  Here are a few moments that stood out: 

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
A composite image of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet arriving to the first French-language debate.

1. Scheer accuses Trudeau of being a “hypocrite” on the environment for using two campaign planes

During a section on the environment, as Trudeau was trying to suggest his government had done a lot to address climate change while Scheer was trying to block efforts to but a price on carbon and the Bloc would not be in a position to put together a pan-Canadian plan to deal with the issue, the Tory leader called the Liberal leader out for doing one thing but saying another.

“You are a hypocrite on the question of the environment. There is only one leader here that has two planes for his election campaign. It’s you,” Scheer said. “One for you and the media, and the other for your costumes and your canoe.”

Trudeau tried to butt in and note that the Tories are “not even buying carbon credits” to offset their campaign. He shook his head and said Scheer had been waiting to use that line. 

“You are a fake environmentalist,” Scheer said.

Coming up: The English federal leaders’ debate on Oct. 7. Story continues below.


The Tories sent out a press release saying Trudeau’s second plane was bigger gas guzzler than the first. The Liberals countered that they’ve purchased carbon offsets for both planes and their buses. (The Greens have not rented an airplane as they are trying to run a carbon-free campaign with offsets for commercial air travel and electric vehicles. The NDP, which has rented a plane for part of the campaign, has also purchased carbon offsets, and says it is also making efforts to keep a light carbon footprint).

The Liberals have been using a second plane, as they did in 2015, to fly around equipment, signage and flags to dress their events and rallies.  

Liberal spokesman Joe Pickerill told HuffPost there is no canoe on the plane.  

The one used in a photo-op in Sudbury last week was “rented on site,” he said. 

2. Scheer refused to answer whether he personally supports a woman’s right to choose

The Conservative leader was asked several times, first by anchor Pierre Bruneau — who noted that Scheer had supported every bill in Parliament that sought to limit abortion rights —   what his personal opinion is regarding a women’s right to choose whether to have an abortion. He did not answer.  

Trudeau repeatedly tried to ask him, whether as a father, a husband, he supported a woman’s right to an abortion. Singh also asked, stressing that he supports abortion rights. 

But Scheer gave no answer about his personal view.

“You have not been open,” Trudeau told Scheer.

“Personally, I will ensure that a Conservative government does not reopen this debate,” Scheer responded.

The Tory leader said he would vote against any measure to reopen the debate. “Nothing changed regarding access [to abortions] under the previous Conservative government, nothing changed under this government, and nothing is going to change under a future Conservative government,” he added. 

The Bloc Québécois leader said he feels that the right of a woman to do as she wishes with their body is such a fundamental value in Quebec that if any of his MPs wished to introduce a bill that would restrict abortion, he would kick them out of his caucus immediately.

Trudeau and Singh, who agree with Blanchet on the abortion question, also sought to paint Scheer as out of touch with Quebec values.

After the debate, reporters also questioned Scheer on his personal stand regarding abortion. He said that like many Quebecers, he is a Catholic, but he did not elaborate on what that meant for him. He said there is no consensus on the issue, but added that as prime minister he would govern for all Canadians. 

3. Scheer suggested that Trudeau has a secret plan of legalizing hard drugs

Trudeau was asked whether it would be a good idea to decriminalize small amounts of all drugs as a way to address the opioids crisis, something the Commons health committee — dominated by Liberal MPs — recommended earlier this year.

“Not right away,” Trudeau responded, saying his government has expanded safe injection sites and is focused on harm reduction.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks to the media after the TVA French debate in Montreal on Wednesday.

Scheer jumped on that to say: “Not right away? So, that’s your secret agenda to legalize, or decriminalize hard drugs.”

In a scrum after the debate, Trudeau said “not at all” when asked whether he would pursue decriminalization during a possible next mandate, stating that this is not part of his party’s platform. 

4. Trudeau announced that if re-elected he is going to expand medically assisted dying legislation

Trudeau revealed during the debate that, should he remain prime minister, his government will not appeal a September Quebec court ruling that struck down restrictions in the Liberal government’s medical assistance in dying bill that limited the procedure to those who are terminally ill and whose death is “reasonably foreseeable.” The court ruled the law unconstitutional, in that it forced people living with incurable conditions to keep suffering.

Trudeau said he would change the law. “We will revisit the law within six months; we will not appeal the decision.”

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer arrives for the TVA french language debate in Montreal on Wednesday.

The law had been purposefully designed initially as restrictive, he suggested, as said he expected it would keep expanding as time and norms shifted. “We understand that society evolves.” 

Trudeau also pledged, however, to ensure that there will still be some restrictions to protect the most vulnerable.

Scheer said if he were prime minister, he would appeal the decision. 

5. Singh said electing more NDP MPs would force the Liberals to keep their promises 

During an exchange on culture, the NDP leader had a zinger of his own. He asked Trudeau what it would take for the Liberal leader to “keep his promises.

“What will it take?” Singh asked. And then, ready with the answer, he said.

“You’ve broken a lot of promises. It’s going to take New Democrats.” 

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