OTTAWA -- With just 11 days left in this election, federal party leaders took part in the sole English-language debate of the 2021 campaign on Thursday.

It was two hours of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul exchanging barbs and one-liners while trying to make their case directly to voters in a largely restrained debate.

The debate saw Paul dodge a question about her position on vaccine mandates, O’Toole insist he is “driving the bus” when it comes to the social conservative members of his caucus, Blanchet lament the time he had to speak, Singh deflect from questions over his missing platform costing, and Trudeau on the defensive over his track record.

Here are some of the main takeaways and notable exchanges from the debate:


Early in the debate Paul and Trudeau had a brief but heated exchange over feminism and caucus management, amid a conversation about military sexual misconduct.

After Trudeau went down an oft-repeated line of messaging about everyone deserving to work in a safe, harassment-free environment, Paul jumped in to question his feminist credentials, a move she’s made before. 

“I do not believe that Mr. Trudeau is a real feminist. A feminist doesn't continue to push strong women out of his party when they are just seeking to serve… the Liberal Party has never had a woman leading,” Paul said.

Then, Trudeau interjected: “Ms. Paul you’ll perhaps understand that I won't take lessons on caucus management from you.”

This was in reference to the spring internal Green Party dispute that saw Paul’s leadership on thin ice after one of her MPs crossed the floor to the Liberals over a rift related to differing positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


During the portion discussing Indigenous reconciliation, Singh went hard at Trudeau’s record when it comes to keeping his commitments to Indigenous peoples.

“You can't take a knee one day, if you're going to take Indigenous kids to court the next, that’s not leadership,” said Singh, referencing Trudeau taking a knee during an anti-racism protest in June of 2020.

“Mr. Singh you love that line about taking Indigenous kids to court” Trudeau shot back.

“It’s not a line,” Singh interjected.

“It’s actually not true, we have committed to compensating those kids…” Trudeau continued.

“You’re taking them to court,” Singh repeated, referring to the federal government’s legal challenge of rulings related to Indigenous child welfare.

Trudeau went on to say that cynicism is getting in the way of recognizing the process made when it comes to reconciliation efforts.


Trudeau, O’Toole, and Singh had a considerable back-and-forth over their respective climate change plans.

Singh and O’Toole went after Trudeau for not meeting climate targets, though no Canadian government has ever met a stated goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Returning the barbs, Trudeau cited policy analysis that rated the NDP’s climate change proposals an “F” while his package has been given an “A.”

Though in some ways, the climate portion may have been more notable for what was not discussed than what was.

“The climate section was disappointing in terms of lack of a real debate on the differences in between plans, things like details around pricing, measures to address buildings, transportation, and others. All parties talk about the need to act on climate but there are real differences between the platforms, and the level of ambition, the pace, and the effectiveness of policies to deliver on that commitment matters,” the University of Calgary’s Sara Hastings-Simon told


People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier was not present at the debate, though many of his supporters made an appearance outside of the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., where the debate took place.

Early in the election, the Leaders' Debates Commission determined that the PPC did not meet the eligibility criteria, as the party did not have an MP when the election was called, and it fell short of the four-per-cent threshold of public polling support needed to qualify. However, recent Nanos Research ballot tracking have the party ahead of the Greens, with 5.3 per cent support.

Dressed in purple, they held signs in support of Bernier, protesting his absence, calling for him to be able to speak and shouting at Trudeau as he arrived for the debate.

Among the phrases on the protesters’ signs: “The other options suck,” “say no to vaccine passports,” and “enough is enough.”

With files from CTV News’ Ryan Flanagan and Ben Cousins