In blow to Canada's Trudeau, legislator defects to opposition

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OTTAWA (Reuters) - A legislator from Canada’s ruling Liberals unexpectedly defected to the main opposition party on Monday, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a year before the next federal election.

Leona Alleslev, a backbench member of Parliament from the greater Toronto region, told reporters that she had joined the Conservatives because she was concerned about the government’s handling of the economy.

Critics say Trudeau, who now enjoys a majority of just 12 seats in the House of Commons, has mishandled talks on NAFTA - the trade agreement with the United States and Mexico currently being renegotiated - put up obstacles to major energy projects, and is running up too much debt. The next election is set for October 2019.

“This is something that is allowed for in our system, obviously. I wish her well in her decision,” Trudeau told reporters shortly after the announcement.

The defection was the first from the Liberal ranks since Trudeau took power after an October 2015 election, when Alleslev overturned a large Conservative majority in her parliamentary constituency to win by around 1,100 votes.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Berkrot