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Leaders prepare for last debate before federal election


This is it – the final televised leadersdebate before the Oct. 19 election happens tonight in Montreal.

Friday’s “Face à Face 2015” debate will focus on three wide-ranging issues: the economy and public finances, security and Canada’s place in the world, and social policies and governance, TVA said.

It will feature six head-to-head rounds of four minutes each and three open debate periods on those topics. Each leader will also get 90 seconds to speak directly to voters to end the debate.

And one issue dominating the campaign in Quebec is sure to be on the agenda at the French-language event, hosted by the TVA network: the niqab.

It took less than 20 minutes for the face veil to come up during the first election debate in French last week.

And in Quebec City on Wednesday night, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said his party was the only one that could ban the niqab from being worn at Canadian citizenship ceremonies.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe also supports a ban, a position that appears to line up with a majority of Quebecers.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is against a ban, and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says he’s against women covering their faces when identifying themselves. Both have accused Duceppe and Harper of distracting voters with an issue that impacts only a tiny fraction of would-be Canadians.

But the Conservative leader appears to be hoping his stance on the veil will buy him votes in Quebec, where his party won only five seats in 2011.

While the NDP swept Quebec in the last election, Mulcair will be trying to use this debate to hold on to that key base of support – especially after a recent poll showed that the New Democrats are quickly losing ground in la Belle Province.

Mulcair was in a key Montreal riding on Thursday, which the NDP won over Duceppe in 2011. In a speech delivered mainly in French, Mulcair said he would put money into renewable energy and home retrofits as part of a plan to fight climate change.

Viewers can also expect the leaders to touch on other major issues weighing on the minds of Quebecers, like the economy and public safety, on Friday’s debate.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was not invited to participate. Earlier this week, a Green Party candidate in Montreal criticized TVA for inviting Duceppe over May.

Daniel Green accused the network of favouring Duceppe because of his close relationship to Pierre Karl Péladeau, who heads the Parti Québécois and is the controlling shareholder in Quebecor, which owns TVA.

The network and Péladeau denied any bias.

TVA news presenter Pierre Bruneau will host the debate tonight. It starts at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast live on TVA and LCN and online at tvanouvelles.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

TORONTO STAR | NEWS | CANADA