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Canada's Trudeau pledges prescription drug plan after blow from blackface photos

Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged on Monday to create a national prescription drug plan if re-elected as he worked to get back on message after blackface photos of him emerged and derailed his campaign last week.

By David Ljunggren

HAMILTON, Ontario, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged on Monday to create a national prescription drug plan if re-elected as he worked to get back on message after blackface photos of him emerged and derailed his campaign last week.

The ruling Liberals were knocked off course when Time magazine published a picture of him in brown makeup at a 2001 "Arabian Nights" party when he was a 29-year-old teacher. Two other images and a video of him in blackface later surfaced.

The images were at odds with his oft-stated position that he wants to improve the lot of minorities in Canada and prompted international ridicule.

After two days of apologies, Trudeau has resumed making campaign announcements. Speaking to voters in the southwestern Ontario city of Hamilton, Trudeau said he would make sure all Canadians had access to a family doctor and affordable medicine.

"No one should go without the care they need because they don't have access to a family doctor. And no one should have to give up food and heat to be able to pay for healthcare," Trudeau said.

Canada's universal healthcare system does not include universal coverage for prescription drugs, and primary care doctors are scarce in many areas.

This is the fourth major campaign pledge since Friday, when he vowed to ban military-style assault weapons. On Sunday he pledged to eliminate taxes on income of up to C$15,000 ($11,309), up from C$12,000 currently, and to slash cellphone bills by a quarter.

Pollster Frank Graves of EKOS Research said his polling, which he has yet to publish in detail, shows a shift toward Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer and away from Trudeau nationally over the past four days.

"It's a body blow," Graves said in an interview, referring to the blackface scandal. "Will the Liberals be able to recover? Who knows? There's no way of putting lipstick on a pig and making this go away."

Conservatives would win 34.3% of the national vote and the Liberals 33.1%, a Nanos Research poll for CTV and the Globe and Mail newspaper released on Monday showed.

In Ontario, Canada's most populous province and a key to any party's hopes, the scandal has erased the 15-percentage-point lead the Liberals held, Graves said.

Liberal insiders are more optimistic, noting that relatively few voters are bringing up the topic.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau held a town hall on Sunday in Montreal - the biggest city in the powerful province of Quebec - and took just one question on the matter.

"I am very proud to work with Justin Trudeau. I consider him to be the most progressive Prime Minister," he replied.

($1 = 1.3264 Canadian dollars)

(With additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Andrea Ricci)

((steve.scherer@thomsonreuters.com; +1-613-235-6745;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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