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Four leaders square off in first televised debate of federal election campaign

Tonight's two-hour debate begins at 8 p.m. ET.
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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, his wife, Rebecca, and their children check out a CF-18 Hornet parked near their campaign plane as they arrive in Edmonton, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

OTTAWA — Four leaders will face off tonight in the first televised debate of the federal election campaign.

The French debate on TVA, one of Quebec's most-watched networks, comes at the mid-point of the campaign and could prove crucial to the outcome on Sept. 20.

Only four leaders — the Liberals' Justin Trudeau, the Conservatives' Erin O'Toole, the Bloc Québécois' Yves-Francois Blanchet, and the NDP's Jagmeet Singh — will take part.

The Green party's Annamie Paul and the Peoples' party's Maxime Bernier were not invited to participate.

The TVA debate was seen as pivotal in the 2019 campaign.

Then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer's evasiveness on the issues of abortion and medical assistance in dying was widely seen as halting early Conservative momentum, ultimately enabling Trudeau's Liberals to eke out a minority win.

The performance of Blanchet, a newcomer to federal politics at the time, was also credited with giving new life to the Bloc Québécois, which helped rob Trudeau of a second majority mandate.

The TVA debate is in addition to two official debates organized by the Leaders' Debates Commission. The official debates are scheduled to take place next week — in French on Sept. 8 and in English on Sept. 9. 

Paul will participate in those debates, but Bernier, who didn't meet the independent commission's criteria for participation, will not.

The TVA debate involves a series of face-to-face encounters between two leaders at a time, allowing for sharper and longer exchanges.

Tonight's two-hour debate begins at 8 p.m. ET.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2021.

The Canadian Press