Candidates in hot seat at first ever campaign debate hosted by Catholic Archdiocese


Un débat tenu par l'archidiocèse de Toronto : impossible à imaginer dans le Québec antichrétien d'aujourd'hui !

It was always going to be awkward that the first ever campaign debate hosted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto had every party represented by men.

But it was not until the topic turned to abortion that the gender imbalance became most evident, as male representatives of all five parties endorsed a woman’s right to choose while also offering their own qualifications and reservations, and getting in partisan digs at their opponents.

It fell to Dan Turcotte, the Green Party candidate from Don Valley East, to actually mention women, and to emphasize what the federal government can do to help them by promoting their access to health care, safety and education.

Moderator Don Newman, the former CBC political broadcaster, said he found all their responses unsatisfying. He acknowledged that Liberals are determinedly pro-choice although their Catholic leader Justin Trudeau has expressed his own personal pro-life views, and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, also personally pro-life, has said he will not open the abortion debate in Parliament. But this is the “biggest issue for most Catholics,” Newman said, and none of the candidates on stage in Toronto Thursday night gave “much comfort to the Catholics in the room.”

“I’m wondering why any of them should vote for any of you,” Newman said.

Dan Turcotte, Green Party MP candidate for Don Valley East, seen alongside other candidates and current MP’s, during the Archdiocese of Toronto’s federal election debate. Nick Kozak for Postmedia

“I think folks have to recognize where we are,” said Garnett Genuis, a Conservative MP from Alberta, quipping that Pope Francis himself would not be allowed to run for the Liberals or NDP because of their screening on the issue of abortion.

“We live in a country where most political parties aren’t just pro-choice, but they want to drum those who disagree out of public life, out of professions, and out of government programs,” Genuis said. He criticized in particular the professional requirement for doctors in Ontario to refer patients for medical aid in dying. “Conservatives will defend freedom of speech and conscience for all, including for legislators.”

Genuis also pledged to bring back the Office of Religious Freedom, which was set up by Stephen Harper and shut by the Liberals. Liberal Francesco Sorbara, who was there to replace his colleague Filomena Tassi who had a family emergency, said the office had been “ineffective.”

NDP candidate Matthew Green of Hamilton, Ont., rejected the premise that Catholics are single issue voters, and got a jibe in against the fifth-place People’s Party of Canada by saying leader Maxime Bernier “was a Conservative for all of these years and only had a coming to Jesus moment when he lost the leadership.”

PPC candidate David Haskell said one of his colleagues has a private member bill to ban third trimester abortion all ready to be put forward in the next parliament with consent of the party leadership.

We have earned a place at the democratic table and we expect our voices to be heard


Haskell, who was there last minute because of a decision of the federal Leaders’ Debates Commission, whose rules the Archdiocese followed including drawing lots for stage placement and speaking order, had already boosted the PPC as the newest and fastest growing party ever in Canada.

He made a clear pitch to evoke a sense of grievance and victimhood in the audience, arguing that his party believes Canada is “unapologetically good,” but that the media gives conservatives in general a hard time by ignoring them or being one-sided.

“Our current Liberal government actively discriminates against Christians and people of conservative moral convictions,” Haskell said.

This got applause. His pledge to reduce immigration in order to get housing prices down did not. Rather, this was met by a scolding from Green of the NDP, who said that his home of Hamilton has homelessness at record levels, with tent encampments worse than refugee camps he has visited overseas, but this is not a question of immigration.

“We have to be very careful about that rhetoric that pits newcomer versus people who are already living in poverty in this country,” Green said. “Immigrants are not a loss to our society.”

Later Haskell criticized the moderator Newman for failing to say the word “Islam” or “Muslim” in a discussion of Christians persecuted overseas.

“Every other faith can speak its name but Christianity can’t,” Haskell said. He then got the loudest applause of the night for saying: “The problem is that political correctness is getting in the way of truth and it’s getting in the way of solutions.”

Turcotte of the Green Party then scored a point against Haskell by saying a good way to help persecuted Christians overseas would be to increase immigration, not cut it.

The laughter and cheering was one of the oddities of a campaign debate before a live audience, more than 1,000 people in a downtown Toronto theatre, the largest of any debate in the campaign.

“People of faith are in touch with wisdom both ancient and new,” said Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins in opening remarks. “We have earned a place at the democratic table and we expect our voices to be heard.”

Collins said the audience was there to listen and reflect, and moderator Newman asked that people suppress “any outbursts of disagreement that may gurgle inside us.”

The audience did not obey, and the candidates played to them, with Sorbara and Genuis clearly trying to attack each other with prepared lines and ignore the smaller party candidates.

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