Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, trying to revive his election campaign after the emergence of embarrassing photos, on Wednesday used a televised debate to accuse his main rival of seeking to reopen the debate on abortion.
Polls suggest Trudeau's left-leaning Liberals could lose power to the opposition Conservatives of Andrew Scheer on Oct 21 amid voter unhappiness with images of Trudeau in blackface as well as a number of other scandals.
Trudeau, speaking during a French-language debate in the province of Quebec, suggested Scheer would be open to reviving the debate on abortion. There are few restrictions on abortion in Canada and the Conservatives have traditionally steered clear of the topic, fearing they could alienate progressive voters.
"Do you - as a party leader, as a father and a husband -believe women should have a choice?" Trudeau asked Scheer, who repeated his position that he would not reopen the debate if he became prime minister.
The other two leaders in the debate hosted by private channel TVA - Jagmeet Singh of the left-leaning New Democrats and Yves-Francois Blanchet of the separatist Bloc Quebecois - also pressed Scheer on the issue.
"We are seeing that three of us are aligned on values, the values of Quebecers, and we have a fourth, a Conservative party that is not aligned ... on the rights of women," said Trudeau.
The exchange was the first between the leaders of the major parties since the blackface photos emerged last month, causing Trudeau him enormous embarrassment and temporarily derailing his campaign to retain power in the Oct 21 vote.
French is the predominant language in Quebec, Canada's second most populous province, which accounts for 78 of the 338 seats in the federal House of Commons.
The Liberals had been confident of adding to the 40 Quebec seats they won in 2015 but now face a challenge from the Conservatives as well as the Bloc, which wants independence for the province of 8.4 million.
Trudeau skated carefully when pressed about a Quebec law banning public employees from wearing religious symbols, saying while he opposed the measure he would not move to challenge it for the time being.
The leaders will hold a English-language debate on Oct 7 and another French-language session on Oct 10.