Canada's liberal PM takes aim at conservatives 10 days before ballot

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces criticism on a nationally televised debate stage ahead of this month's election (AFP/Justin Tang)
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Canada's Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, facing a possible election defeat and a barrage of criticism over climate and foreign policies, tried to paint his Conservative rival as unready to lead on a debate stage Thursday.

The nationally televised primetime debate was Trudeau's last opportunity to face-off in person against the Tories' rookie captain Erin O'Toole in a bid to sway voters.

Canadians go to the polls on September 20.

Several issues -- climate, global warming, Afghanistan, Covid-19 vaccines and indigenous reconciliation -- triggered brief clashes between the main candidates.

Tensions have risen in recent days as O'Toole took a slight lead in public opinion polls.

An agitated Trudeau -- the more seasoned campaigner who loves a dog fight -- at times spoke over O'Toole and three other party leaders on the stage, before the moderator cut him off.

He accused O'Toole of hiding an agenda to loosen gun controls, and highlighted splinters in the Conservative party's approach to global warming.

The prime minister also challenged O'Toole's rejection of mandatory Covid jabs.

"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.

O'Toole, who has led the Conservatives for one year, shot back at the criticism of his leadership: "I am driving the bus to make sure we get this country back on track."

On climate, Trudeau came under fire for failing to put a dent in Canada's greenhouse gas emission levels over the six years that his Liberals have been in office.

Acknowledging that Conservatives needed to win back public trust, O'Toole said: "We haven't met the expectations of Canadians on climate change."

Turning to foreign policy, he criticized Trudeau for calling an election on the day Kabul fell to the Taliban, and an unsettled row with China.

The plight of two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, was raised.

Kovrig and Spavor have been detained by China since December 2018 following Ottawa's arrest on a US warrant of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

"You let the Michaels down," O'Toole said, addressing Trudeau.

He also said veterans had called for a plan to evacuate Afghan interpreters and others who worked with the Canadian military months before Kabul fell.

"When Afghanistan was falling there were 1,200 Canadians and hundreds more translators and others waiting for help from Canada," O'Toole said.

"Mr Trudeau should not have called this election, you should have gotten the job done in Afghanistan," he said.

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