Tom Mulcair paints NDP as only alternative to Conservatives ahead of leaders' debate

Tom Mulcair says he's looking forward to debating Stephen Harper tonight so he can show Canadians why his party is the only alternative to the Conservatives. Mulcair's appearance will mark his first debate since becoming NDP leader.

NDP leader speaks in Toronto - 'Canada's most important city' - ahead of Maclean's hosted event

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks at the launch of candidate Jennifer Hollett's Toronto campaign office on Thursday. Later in the evening, Mulcair will participate in his first leaders' debate since taking over as NDP leader. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says he's looking forward to debating Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper in Toronto tonight during the first leaders' debate of an 11-week campaign.

"This is my first debate," Mulcair noted as he spoke to the media Thursday flanked by his team of Toronto candidates.

Mulcair was elected NDP leader in 2012 after the death of predecessor Jack Layton, who in 2011 led the party to official opposition status for the first time.

Mulcair painted his party as the only alternative to Harper's Conservatives in another pitch to convince Torontonians to vote for the New Democrats.

"I think that it's going to be an opportunity for Canadians to realize that this election is about choice — a choice between four more years of Stephen Harper or an extraordinary team of women and men dedicated to bringing positive change to Ottawa," Mulcair said.

The economy is one of the topics in tonight's debate, and Mulcair served notice he will go after Harper's record.

"Mr. Harper has given us eight deficits in a row, $150 billion in new debt...and he's got one of the worst job-creation records in Canadian history," Mulcair told enthusiastic supporters at a candidate's constituency office.

"You have to go all the way back to the crisis of the 1920 to find someone with a worse economic record."

Mulcair repeated promises to repeal the government's anti-terrorism law, C-51, scrap an "income splitting" tax credit and lower the retirement age for Old Age Security from 67 to 65.

"After Oct. 19, your NDP MPs are going to repair the damage done by Stephen Harper," Mulcair declared.

And after a week in which Harper has exchanged words with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Mulcair reiterated his desire for more consultation with the premiers.

"It doesn't matter what political stripe they are, I have the obligation to work with each and every one of them, and that's precisely what I'll do."

As the only federal leader speaking publicly ahead of the debate, Mulcair said it was great to be back in "Canada's most important city."

Mulcair was in the riding of University–Rosedale, where NDP candidate Jennifer Hollett will be running against Liberal Chrystia Freeland.

Freeland was first elected as a Liberal MP during a byelection in the riding Toronto–Centre.

with files from Cameron Macintosh and The Canadian Press