OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, struggling to establish a lead ahead of an Oct. 21 election, on Thursday accused his main rival of planning to cut taxes on the country’s richest people.
Polls show the Liberals have been virtually level with the Conservatives of Andrew Scheer since the start of the campaign and are unable to break away.
“You are promising to cut taxes by C$50,000 ($37,600) for multi millionaires,” Trudeau told Scheer during one of the few lively moments in a French-language debate among the leaders of six parties contesting the election.
“That’s a lie,” Scheer retorted as Trudeau defended his record since taking power in 2015. “There are too many lies in that speech for me to have time to address.”
Trudeau took office vowing to run a series of small budget deficits but has since ditched that promise as the Liberals ramped up spending.
Scheer is committing to eliminate the shortfall in five years, which Trudeau says will require painful spending cuts. Scheer is due to release his full party platform on Friday.
According to Statistics Canada, median household total income in 2015 was just over C$70,000.
The debate - the third and last encounter between the leaders before the election - was much more sedate than a bad-tempered English encounter on Monday.
French is the language spoken by most people in Quebec, Canada’s second most populous province, which accounts for 78 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.
The Liberals started the campaign with 40 of those seats and initially targeted another dozen to help make up for expected losses elsewhere.
Surveys show the once moribund separatist Bloc Quebecois, recovering quickly under new leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, could take some of the extra seats Trudeau is counting on.
This strongly suggests the most likely result is a minority Liberal or Conservative administration that will be reliant on the support of smaller parties to govern. Minority governments in Canada rarely last more than two years.
Commentators generally agree Scheer did poorly in a French-language debate last week but held his own in the English session on Monday.
(This story adds dropped word in headline)
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler