UPDATE 2-Canada's Trudeau pledges major drug plan boost after blow from blackface photos

David Ljunggren

blackface photos@ (Adds comments by Trudeau, details on campaign, comment by pollster)

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

After two days of profuse apologies, Trudeau has resumed making campaign announcements as polls show his Liberals trailing the opposition Conservatives of Andrew Scheer ahead of the Oct. 21 election.

Trudeau, accusing the Conservatives of planning major spending cuts, 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 told reporters in the southwestern Ontario city of Hamilton.

He also promised to expand Canada's universal healthcare system to cover prescription drugs but gave few details of timing or cost, save to say Ottawa would be working with the 10 provinces and three northern territories.

Federal-provincial talks about funding can be acrimonious and lengthy and there is no guarantee the new system could be set up as outlined.

The ruling Liberals were knocked off course by old photos of Trudeau in blackface that emerged last week. 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.

Trudeau took more questions about the photos on Monday, five days after Time magazine released the first picture.

"I am continuing to be open with Canadians about the mistake I made ... I should have known better but didn't," he said. "I will continue to work every day to fight racism."

The healthcare pledge was his fourth major campaign announcement since last Friday, when he vowed to ban military-style assault weapons. On Sunday he pledged to eliminate some taxes and 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 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. A pollster noted that the election is still a month away.

"Ultimately, the blackface photos may be the campaign moment that prevents the Liberals from being re-elected," said David Coletto of the Abacus polling firm, which has Conservatives leading the Liberals by 2 percentage points nationally, the same margin as last week.

"But the initial reaction and how voters are reacting so far suggests there's way too much campaign left to make that conclusion today." ($1 = 1.3264 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by David Ljunggren in Hamilton, Ontario, and Steve Scherer in Ottawa Editing by Andrea Ricci and Matthew Lewis)

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