OTTAWA, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau, facing potential defeat in a Sept. 20 election, on
Thursday used a key leaders' debate to take aim at his main
rival, portraying him as weak and ineffective.
Polls show Erin O'Toole's Conservative Party has a chance of
winning the election and ending six years of Liberal rule.
Trudeau called the vote two years early as a referendum on his
handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau, sometimes looking agitated, rounded several times
on O'Toole, who has had trouble making himself known to
Canadians since taking over his party a year ago.
O'Toole says he will offer serious leadership to clean up
after what he calls a corrupt, incompetent and spendthrift
Trudeau accuses O'Toole of harboring an extremist agenda and
not being serious on topics such as climate change. Trudeau also
favors mandates to ensure people are inoculated against
COVID-19, a move O'Toole says goes too far.
"The problem with Mr O'Toole and his principles is, he says
all the right sounding things and he's working on reassuring
everyone that he's right there as a strong leader, but he can't
convince his candidates to get vaccinated," said Trudeau.
Polls show O'Toole with a slight lead amid voter unhappiness
with Trudeau's decision to call the election early.
The leadership debate was the only one of three in English,
spoken by two-thirds of Canada's 38 million people, and is
traditionally seen as a key means of influencing voters.
However, Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos said by email
"there were no major gaffes nor any knock-out punches from any
of the parties ... this wasn't a game changer".
Trudeau spoke over the other four party chiefs several
times, forcing the moderator to cut him off.
Darrell Bricker, chief executive officer of Ipsos Public
Affairs, said he did not see anything from Trudeau or O'Toole
that would change the direction of their campaigns.
"When he (Trudeau) did try to go at O'Toole it came off as
very hot and frantic. O'Toole wasn't a huge factor tonight but
that's OK," he said by email.
Trudeau is fond of noting that earlier this year most
Conservative lawmakers voted in favor of draft legislation that
would have banned some abortions. The initiative failed.
O'Toole insisted he was in charge and would not bow to the
views of legislators with hard line social views.
"I am driving the bus to make sure we get this country back
on track. And I'm here to defend the rights of all Canadians,
women, members of the LGBTQ community," he said.
O'Toole conceded that in the past, Conservatives had not
done enough to combat emissions of greenhouse gases and needed
to win back public trust.
A three-day rolling Ekos phone poll of 1,365 adults released
on Thursday showed the Conservatives at 33.6% public support,
versus 30.7% for the Liberals and 15.7% for the smaller
left-leaning New Democrats. The poll had a margin of error of
2.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer; Additional
reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Dan
Grebler, Peter Cooney and Jane Wardell)