Canada opposition leader Erin O'Toole comes under attack at debate over childcare policy

OTTAWA (REUTERS) – The head of Canada’s main opposition Conservative Party, who has a chance of toppling Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, came under attack from his rival at a campaign debate on Wednesday (Sept 8) over a promise to scrap plans for a universal daycare programme.

Opinion polls show the right-leaning Conservatives of Erin O’Toole could win the Sept 20 election, ending six years of rule by the left-of-centre Liberals.

The Conservatives – who note Mr Trudeau has racked up record deficits to fight Covid-19 – say they will balance the budget inside 10 years, in part by scrapping a Liberal promise to spend C$30 billion (S$31.81 billion) over five years on a national daycare programme.

Mr Trudeau says the programme will help the economy by encouraging women to return to the workforce.

“We are going to create 250,000 daycare places across the country and Mr O’Toole wants to scrap all of that,” Mr Trudeau said in one of the few notable moments of an often inconclusive televised debate in Gatineau, Quebec, where the five party leaders often spoke over one another.

Mr O’Toole, who is promising a system of tax credits for parents, did not have a chance to answer.

Mr Trudeau called the election two years ahead of schedule as a referendum on his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic but has struggled to overcome voter fatigue.

In last week’s first French-language debate, Mr O’Toole and other leaders condemned Mr Trudeau for triggering an election during the pandemic.

Wednesday’s two-hour debate was the second and final one to be held in French, which is predominantly spoken in Quebec. The province accounts for 78 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons and is crucial for any party seeking office.

The leaders will hold another debate on Thursday in English, the language spoken by two-thirds of Canada’s 38 million population.

An Ipsos Research poll for Global News on Wednesday put the Conservatives at 35 per cent public support, with the Liberals at 32 per cent and the left-leaning New Democrats at 21 per cent.

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