The Latest: Four federal party leaders square off in French-language debate

OTTAWA — The Latest on the French-language leaders' debate among Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet (all times local):

11:05 p.m.

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is finding himself facing more questions about his personal beliefs on abortion after he faced heat from other party leaders during tonight's leaders' debate.

Scheer says it's essential for a prime minister to represent all Canadians, reiterates his pledge to not open the debate anew, adds that he would vote against any measure that would do otherwise, and finishes by saying that only the Liberals are talking about the issue, trying to sow fear about his party.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Scheer also shows a dividing line between him and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, saying he would appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada a Quebec court ruling calling the federal medical assistance in dying law too restrictive.

Scheer says Parliament needs guidance from the high court in the matter.

But the Conservative leader leaves his harshest comments for Trudeau, reiterating his charge that the Liberal leader is a complete hypocrite over his use of two campaign planes — one for himself and staff, another for cargo.

Scheer says his lone plane has enough room for all the people and gear required by his campaign, adding that the Liberals are putting out far more emissions than the Conservatives.

Trudeau said a few minutes earlier that the Liberals were buying carbon offsets for their campaign.

10:50 p.m.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says the Liberals aren't interested in further decriminalization of drugs after legalizing cannabis, noting it isn't part of the party's election platform.

Trudeau also says that a re-elected Liberal government wouldn't appeal a Quebec court decision that found the federal law on medical assistance in dying is overly restrictive.

He says his party always recognized there would be changes to the law passed by his government.

Trudeau makes the comments in speaking with reporters after participating in tonight's French-language debate hosted by network TVA in Montreal.

But it's the charge of being a hypocrite on the environment that Trudeau is asked to answer, particularly after he confirms that his campaign is paying to fly two planes — one for himself, staff and media, and a second for cargo.

Trudeau says the Liberals used the same strategy in 2015 to get advance gear in place for events, but adds the party is buying carbon offsets — something, he says, the Conservatives aren't doing for their campaign.

10:38 p.m.

The leaders who took part in tonight's debate are now coming one by one to a backstage microphone to speak with reporters, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh up first.

He's asked about what he would do quickly for Indigenous people if elected, and says he would enact the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that First Nations communities had clean drinking water.

He also says he would take up a Quebec court decision that found the federal law on medical assistance in dying is too restrictive, adding that it shows the choice isn't there for all people who want it.

Singh also addresses something he said during the debate about the Bloc Quebecois and the party's leader, Yves-Francois Blanchet, over talk about the niqab in relation to Quebec's secularism law.

Singh says his use of the term "degueulasse" — "disgusting" — was an issue where his grasp of the French language was lacking.

He says it was his general reaction to creating what he calls quarrels over secularism during an election campaign, after the Bloc didn't mention it for four years in the House of Commons.

10:10 p.m.

The first debate of the campaign involving Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is in the books — but it was the Conservative leader who took most of the shots.

Andrew Scheer found himself repeatedly under fire from Trudeau, New Democrat Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet.

In their closing statements, each makes a plea to Quebec voters — who could hold the key to a minority or majority government in the Oct. 21 vote — for their support, rehashing many of the themes they tried to bring up during the debate.

Singh talks about how the other parties haven't done much for the province, promising Quebecers he would fight for them through his brand of asymmetric federalism.

Scheer says life has become more expensive under the Trudeau Liberals, and that a vote for change should be for the Conservatives because the Bloc would never be able to replace the incumbent government.

Blanchet simply asks Quebecers who would be best placed to represent their interests in Parliament, pitching his party as a strong vote in Ottawa for the province.

Trudeau, speaking last, says there is a need for Quebecers to be part of a government to help tackle the big issues the country faces, and asks for their votes on Oct. 21.

9:55 p.m.

With minutes to go in the debate, Justin Trudeau is making his most vocal defence of his role during the SNC-Lavalin affair, saying he was simply trying to save thousands of jobs at the Quebec-based engineering company.

Many of those jobs are in Quebec, which is home to Trudeau’s riding of Papineau and where Liberals won 40 of 78 seats in 2015.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says Trudeau was just trying to help big, wealthy corporations that he has accused of having the Liberals in their back pocket.

He also slams Trudeau for booting an Indigenous woman, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, when she stood up to the Liberal leader.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet goes after Scheer over the jobs that could be lost if SNC-Lavalin faces criminal prosecution over allegedly corrupt dealings in Libya, claiming the Conservative leader would have simply let workers become unemployed rather than fighting for them.

Scheer says the Liberals have admitted that there are no federal studies showing that jobs would be lost if the company didn't get what's known as a deferred prosecution agreement.

9:47 p.m.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he would look to get Quebec to sign the Constitution if elected to govern.

He asks if Scheer would do the same, and Scheer speaks about how it was a Conservative government that recognized Quebec as a distinct nation within Canada, and touts his party as the true defender of the province.

Blanchet says none of those things would have happened had it not been for the work of Bloc MPs during the years that former prime minister Stephen Harper led a minority government.

A few minutes later, Blanchet turns back to Scheer and accuses the Conservative leader of wanting to run roughshod over provincial rights.

This follows repeated moments through the night when Scheer spoke about his planned energy corridor from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts.

Scheer calls the proposed energy corridor a win-win for Quebecers — who are leery of new pipelines — which more than once prompts some chiding from Singh.

9:25 p.m.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet is making the case to protect Quebec companies and for the federal government to use all the tools at its disposal to do so.

He even mentions SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec engineering giant at the centre of a scandal involving Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his government.

The arguments come amid discussion about how to tax web giants like Google, Amazon and Netflix, which Quebecers favour.

The issue with taxing Netflix strikes a particular note in Quebec, where the Liberals made a deal with the streaming service to invest $500 million in Canada a cornerstone of the government's cultural policy, instead of imposing a tax on the company — a move that was summarily pilloried in Quebec.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the Liberals have given web giants a pass by not taxing them properly.

Trudeau says his government has been working on a more global approach to make sure there's consistency among jurisdictions, but agrees there needs to be a tax on these online services.

9:15 p.m.

The gloves have come off between Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as the two debate the federal response to climate change.

Trudeau says that Scheer is completely misleading Canadians about the effects of the Liberal carbon tax, noting that it returns, in most cases, more money to Canadians at tax time than they pay in carbon taxes through the year.

Quebec has its own cap-and-trade system to price carbon, meaning the province isn't subject to the federal backstop.

Scheer turns to Trudeau and calls the Liberal leader a fraud on climate change, despite his costumes and canoe.

Scheer also takes a dig at the Liberals' needing a second campaign plane.

Trudeau also goes after Blanchet during his time as environment minister in Quebec, criticizing him for not doing enough while he was there.

8:45 p.m.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he won't look to repeal the Liberal law that legalized cannabis across the country, but would put more money into policing to crack down on the black market.

He says that he believes Justin Trudeau's government rushed the rules on legal cannabis into law without thinking through or dealing properly with all the consequences.

Trudeau defends how his government handled the realization of the high-profile campaign promise from 2015, saying it's now harder for children to get marijuana and the laws have helped take a bite out of the black market.

But after Trudeau suggests he's not ready to decriminalize other drugs, Scheer accuses the Liberal leader of having a secret agenda to legalize all hard drugs.

Scheer also turns his sights on Yves-Francois Blanchet, arguing that Quebecers who don't want the Liberals to remain in power should vote Conservative because the Bloc hasn't done anything for the province while in Parliament.

The whole exchange precedes talk about health care spending, where Singh defends his party's plans to create a national dental care program despite charges from Blanchet that it would infringe on provincial jurisdiction.

8:32 p.m.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says that if re-elected, he would not close the door on challenging Quebec's secularism law, known as Bill 21, even if he isn't ready to challenge it now.

The controversial law bans some public-sector employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols in the workplace, such as hijabs for Muslim women and yarmulkes for Jewish men, but is popular among francophone Quebecers.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet defends the law and says all federal parties must respect decisions made by the province's National Assembly.

The issue of abortion, though, continues to dog Andrew Scheer with Trudeau going after his Conservative rival over whether he supports a woman's right to access abortion services.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh adds the issue of same-sex marriage, which Scheer years ago spoke against as a backbench MP — comments he has since tried to distance himself from.

The exchange followed a back-and-forth between Singh and Trudeau over the federal legislation on medical assistance in dying, where Singh challenged Trudeau to rewrite it to make it less restrictive and Trudeau said it's important to balance the rights of people who want to end their lives with dignity and the rights of vulnerable people who might be victimized.

8:10 p.m.

The first interaction of the French-language federal leaders' debate has pitted Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet against Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer over the politically divisive issue of abortion.

Blanchet tries to corner Scheer on his personal position on the issue.

He says that a Bloc MP would never vote to restrict a woman's right to access a safe abortion and any who did would be ejected.

Scheer talks about how a Conservative government wouldn't change abortion rules in the country, accusing Blanchet of trying to whip up fear.

Blanchet tries to corner Scheer again by asking whether he, personally, supports abortion rights.

Scheer says that people across the country have different opinions about abortion and that's normal and returns to his point that a Conservative government wouldn't reopen the debate.

7 p.m.

The four leaders have all arrived at the TVA studio in Montreal for tonight's French-language debate, the first of the federal campaign involving Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh arrived first, shaking hands with supporters, just as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did when he stepped off his bus a few minutes later.

Speaking to a TVA reporter, Scheer said he planned to bring to the stage his party's positive message about plans to help Quebec, adding he was looking forward to having a real debate.

Members of the crowd serenaded Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet with a rendition, mostly in English, of "O Canada" when he walked off his tour bus.

Blanchet sounded a different note inside, saying he felt "dangerously good" about the evening's debate.

Trudeau arrived last and said he was ready to talk about how his government has delivered for Canadians and what his party would do for Canadians and Quebecers if re-elected to govern.

Green Leader Elizabeth May was not invited to tonight's debate and tweeted her displeasure, saying organizer TVA "fails to offer the full picture that voters are facing" and calling out other parties for not speaking up.

The debate begins at 8 p.m.

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