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Federal leaders back on the hustings after back-to-back debates


OTTAWA — Federal party leaders are back on the campaign trail today after locking horns in two back-to-back leaders’ debates.

It remains to be seen whether either Wednesday’s French debate or Thursday’s English debate moved the public opinion needle, with just 10 days to go before election day on Sept. 20.

Heading into the debates, polls suggested the Liberals and Conservatives were locked in a dead heat, with smaller parties poised to determine which of the main parties emerges victorious.

The English debate was fractious, its format widely panned for giving leaders little time to engage substantively with one another or to respond to barbs from rivals.

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Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet took umbrage with moderator Shachi Kurl, a pollster with the Angus Reid Institute, for a question he said suggested Quebec is racist and he later criticized Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for not coming to the province’s defence.

Trudeau, who had rounded on Blanchet in Wednesday’s French debate for questioning his devotion to Quebec, told reporters the format didn’t give him a chance to respond.

He reiterated his opposition to Quebec’s secularism law — which Kurl had called “discriminatory” because it bans public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious garb or symbols — but said Quebecers are not racist.

Quebec, with 78 seats, is a key battleground that could determine the outcome of the election.

At dissolution, the Liberals held 35 seats in the provinces, the Bloc 32, the Conservatives 10 and the NDP just one.

Hours before Thursday’s debate, Premier Francois Legault all but endorsed Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives, saying they’d be easier to work with than the Liberals or NDP, whom he accused of wanting to intrude on Quebec jurisdiction over health care and other matters.

O’Toole has promised to transfer billions to the provinces for health care with no strings attached.

The English debate represented the leaders’ last best chance to sway millions of voters. It came just as four days of advance polls are set to open today.