OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer used the first official debate ahead of next month’s election to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was absent but struggled to shine against his two other opponents.

This is the first opportunity for Scheer, who won party leadership in 2017, to show that he has what it takes to lead the country when he faces longtime Green Party leader Elizabeth May and left-wing New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh, both at more aggressive than Scheer.

“I think we can all agree. “Justin Trudeau is afraid of his notes and that’s why he’s not here tonight,” Scheer said in a debate organized by the Citytv and Macleans news magazines in Toronto.

The debate committee prepared an empty podium to underline that Trudeau declined the invitation. When the event began, the Liberal Party leader instead spoke at a rally in western Canada.

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The formal campaign for the October 21 ballot began on Wednesday and Trudeau has agreed to participate in three of the five leaders’ debates.

Scheer and Trudeau are in ruins according to national polls, but Liberals have the advantage of more cleansing individuals or districts.

The New Democrats are in third place with the Green Party which cares about the environment, polls show. Both can play king after the election if no one wins a majority.

During the debate, Scheer focused criticism on Trudeau while Singh, who also participated in his first national debate, attacked the Conservative record on adat issues and his opposition to expanding the scope of national health services for drugs.

Singh, who is a Sikh and wears a turban, also said he would challenge Quebec’s ban on public officials who use religious symbols, while Scheer moved away from such a move. French-speaking Quebec is the main battleground province for all parties, and the ban is popular there.

“This legalizes discrimination and is sad and painful,” Singh said. Both Singh and May also chased Scheer about climate change, saying that the Conservative plan cannot be trusted.

The second day of Scheer’s official campaign began with a rocky start when he was forced to repeat a promise not to cancel abortion rights after a Liberal cabinet minister tweeted a video of a Conservative candidate who said he was surprised by the lack of restrictions on abortion. .

“We always make it very clear … that the Conservative government will not reopen this issue,” Scheer said, accusing his opponents of fear-drying in an attempt to divert attention from their “scandal and corruption”.

Last month, the top watchdog ruled that Trudeau had violated ethical rules by pressuring the former justice minister to ensure large construction companies would avoid corruption trials.

Trudeau was at a rally in Edmonton, Alberta, where he talked about his economic record and low unemployment to a room full of Liberal supporters shouting “Four more years!” And waved a sign that read “Hope and Hard Work”.

But the second day Trudeau also faced challenges. Liberals were forced to leave their “Trudeau” branded campaign planes for generic aircraft after the bus took reporters after the campaign scraped the left-wing of the Boeing 737.

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