Federal leaders face off in final debate of the election campaign

Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet will likely find himself on the defensive Thursday

Six federal political leaders are set to face off in the final scheduled debate of the 2019 election campaign.

Thursday night’s event is a French-language rematch of the officially sanctioned English debate on Monday, also at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.

It is also the last time the leaders will present themselves to Canadians together before advance polls open Friday morning.

Voter surveys suggest the two previous televised debates gave a boost to the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, but didn’t move the needle for the front-running Liberals and Conservatives.

Quebec voters remain volatile and all six parties are counting on picking up support in the province as part of their respective paths to victory.

The re-emergence of support for the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec was dismissed by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh Thursday.

While his party appears to be losing ground to the BQ, Singh said the NDP is far better placed to work with the rest of Canada to deliver on major promises.

READ MORE: Tories to release platform on Friday, Singh sets terms for NDP minority support

Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet will likely find himself on the defensive Thursday, though, as the Conservatives as well had been hoping to court some of his party’s voters to shore up their seat count in Quebec.

But leader Andrew Scheer was widely considered to have taken the hardest hit in Quebec after the previous French-language debate put on by television network TVA, and though his aides had been bullish on Tory chances in the province, they’ve now dialled back that enthusiasm.

The TVA debate did not feature Green Leader Elizabeth May, who arrived for Thursday’s event saying she was looking forward to it.

“I always have the same strategy: Listen to the questions and give an honest answer,” she said in French on her way into the museum.

People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier was also shut out of the TVA debate but will join the group Thursday. The English debate Monday saw the other five leaders gang up on his stance against increasing immigration to Canada.

While he has managed to win some support for his nascent political movement across the country, he is also fighting hard to hold onto his seat in Quebec.

When asked on his way in to the event whether he was concerned about losing it, he laughed and said “just watch me.”

The riff on former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s line comes as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was expected to take quite a bit of heat during Thursday’s event. Scheer has previously said he had wanted more time in the last debate to go directly after the prime minister.

Thursday’s debate was to feature five themes: economy and finances, environment and energy, foreign policy and immigration, identity ethics and governance and services to citizens.

Ahead of the debates, the Conservatives and Liberals had sought to energize their respective supporters by taking jabs at each other.

The Liberals released new ads on Thursday that took aim at Scheer, hoping to deflect from scrutiny of Trudeau himself with the Liberal leader saying in one ad that Scheer “wants you to think this election is about me — I think it’s about you.”

The Conservatives fired back on Facebook with a video urging Trudeau to fire former cabinet minister and Toronto candidate Judy Sgro, who told a radio station that her black constituents in Toronto told her they loved Trudeau even more after learning he wore blackface. Sgro has apologized.

Trudeau has likewise apologized for wearing brownface and blackface, which he says he now understands to be racist, after a series of images of him from 2001 and the 1990s rocked his campaign last month.

Mindful that he might end up having to support either one of those parties in a minority Parliament, Singh laid out some conditions earlier Thursday for doing so.

His terms largely matched his campaign platform — national pharmacare and dental care programs, more affordable housing, eliminating interest on federal student loans, a tax for the super-rich and action on climate change.

But he added a new item: changing the way the country votes.

Electoral reform is an especially sore spot for the Liberals, who promised that the 2015 election would be the last under the traditional first-past-the-post electoral system, only to scuttle the recommendations of the committee they put together to examine the issue.

Singh’s NDP backs a system of mixed-member proportional representation, which advocates say better reflects the will of voters as expressed in the popular vote. Singh said the issue is about “giving power back to people.”

The Canadian Press

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