Politics

Federal leaders trade pointed barbs during debate on economy

A series of feisty exchanges marked Thursday night's debate on the economy, as the three federal leaders launched pointed attacks on each other's plans on a range of issues, including jobs, energy, deficits and infrastructure.

Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau clash in Calgary during Globe and Mail debate

Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau debate retirement plans at the Globe and Mail leaders' debate 1:26

A series of feisty exchanges marked Thursday night's debate on the economy, as the three federal leaders launched pointed attacks on each other's plans on a range of issues, including jobs, energy, deficits and infrastructure.

This second debate, certainly a higher energy affair than the first, saw Conservative Leader Stephen Harper on the defensive during attacks from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who claimed his economic policies have resulted in hundreds of thousands of job losses and stagnant economic growth.

But with the race so close, Trudeau and Mulcair also didn't hold back from slamming each other.

On jobs, Trudeau accused Harper of having the worst job creation rate since the Second World War, the worst growth rate of any prime minister since the Great Depression and of being out of touch with the concerns of regular Canadians.

"Mr. Harper may not see what's going on from 24 Sussex Dr., but I do."

Mulcair criticized Harper for counting on resource extraction for job creation and blamed his policies for the loss of 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the recession.

      1 of 0

      "Mr. Harper put all of his eggs into one basket, and then he dropped the basket," Mulcair said.

      But Harper dismissed Mulcair and Trudeau's economic plans as consisting of nothing more than reckless spending and tax hikes, while he defended his record.

      "I've never said things are great," said Harper.

      "Where would you rather have been but in Canada?" he asked. "Looking forward, where would you want to be but Canada?"

      Pipelines and the environment

      On the issue of energy, Trudeau and Mulcair attacked Harper's environmental record, as Trudeau criticized the Conservative leader for making the oilsands an international pariah and failing to get pipelines built.

      "With friends like Stephen Harper, Alberta doesn't need enemies," Trudeau said.

      Mulcair accused Harper of gutting a whole series of environmental laws and of seeing the environment and the economy "as polar opposites. Everybody in Canada knows you have to work on both at the same time."

      However, Harper snapped back that his government has done both, and accused Mulcair of being the only leader in Canadian history to go to another country [the U.S.] to argue against Canadian jobs and Canadian development projects. Mulcair went to the U.S. to argue against the Keystone pipeline, but he countered that his motivation was to prevent jobs being exported to the south.
       

      NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper argue over pipelines, environmental protection and jobs at the Globe and Mail leaders debate. 1:45

      Harper said his government has invested a billion dollars a year in green energy and said the NDP solution is to impose costs upon consumers in a fragile global economy.

      The issue of deficits was also a hot topic as the leaders have staked out divergent views, with both Harper and Mulcair pledging balanced budgets and surpluses. But Trudeau has argued that what's needed to kickstart the economy is long-term infrastructure spending, which is why he would run three deficits if the Liberals form a government. 

      "Running a deficit is not the kind of protection our economy needs," Harper said. "We don't need to spend more just for the sake of being able to say we've spent more." 

      Trudeau lashed back at Harper's own record, saying, "You have run deficits in good years, run deficits in bad years. The only time you haven't run deficits in is in election years."

      Leaders divided on taxes

      But Mulcair pounced on Trudeau's deficit plan, saying that in July he had announced he would balance the books.

      "So I think Justin, that it's only fair to say that when your advisers tell you one thing and another and they're totally contradictory, pick one. You just can't say them both."

      On taxes, Trudeau has said he would not touch the corporate tax rate, but would implement a tax hike on the wealthiest one per cent. Mulcair, who has made billions of dollars of program pledges, has said he would raise the corporate tax rate to 17 per cent from its current 15 per cent. However they both accused the other of coddling the wealthy

      Mulcair rejected Trudeau's fiscal plan as "frankly, reckless and uncosted," prompting Trudeau, in defence of his infrastructure spending plan, to say that Mulcair likes to talk about the long term, but doesn't realize the long term starts right now.

      Foreign policy made its way into the Globe and Mail's debate on the economy as Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair tackle the Syrian refugee crisis. 2:23

      Harper repeatedly castigated both of his opponents, criticizing Trudeau's plan to raise taxes and run deficits and dismissing Mulcair's plan as the "same old NDP playbook" of raising taxes on corporations.

      Content to stand back

      At times, Harper appeared content to stand back and let his opponents attack each other. In one exchange, Mulcair and Trudeau battled over child care. Trudeau said the NDP leader's plan for $15-a-day child care would take too long to help those in need now, because of his promise to balance the books.

      "They need it right away, but Mr. Mulcair is not making a choice that's going to allow him to invest in his promises. They're puffs of smoke."

      "You know a lot about that, don't you, Justin," Mulcair responded, a jab at Trudeau's support for legalizing marijuana. 

      The debate held in Stampede Park in Calgary was hosted by the Globe and Mail and moderated by its editor in chief, David Walmsley.

      Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who was not invited to participate, instead teamed up with Twitter to be able to respond to the statements of the leaders.

      Harper has wanted to make the campaign about his economic stewardship, and the debate comes on the heels of a number of financial reports, some good, some not.

      Earlier this month, Statistics Canada reported that Canada's GDP had contracted over two consecutive quarters, meeting the technical definition of a recession.

      But the Conservative leader has also been buoyed by figures showing that Canada was in a $5-billion surplus for the April-to-June period this year. That news was followed by figures showing Canada also posted a surplus of $1.9 billion for the 2014-15 fiscal year, ending six years of deficits under Harper's watch 

      On the overall economy, Ha​rper has blamed the downturn on the collapse of oil prices and insisted that the other sectors of the economy are growing and that Canada's fiscal position remains strong.

      'Throwing open our borders'

      One of the more memorable exchanges of the night didn't specifically involve the economy but has emerged as one of the top issues of the campaign — the government's policy toward the Syrian refugee crisis. Trudeau and Mulcair accused Harper of not doing enough to bring in more Syrian refugees, which prompted a spirited defence from the Conservative leader.

      "These guys would have had, in the last two weeks, us throwing open our borders and literally hundreds of thousands of people coming without any kind of security check or documentation," Harper said. "That would have been an enormous mistake."

      Both Trudeau and Mulcair countered that Harper was fear-mongering and using security concerns as an excuse to keep Canada's doors shut.

      "Mr. Harper plays to fears all the time," Trudeau shot back. "Fears of others, fears of different communities. We have a prime minister who prefers to pander to fears. That's not right, sir."

      With files from The Canadian Press

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