CALGARY - A combative Justin Trudeau was under fire from all sides Thursday as opponents slammed the Liberal leader's economic plan as a formula for dumping debt on future generations and raising the taxes of working Canadians.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair took turns throughout the televised leaders' debate criticizing the Liberal plan to run three years of deficits to pay for everything from infrastructure to transit to pension plans.
Trudeau fended off the attacks by attacking Harper, saying Conservative prosperity has not trickled down to the middle class. Under the prime minister, Canada has had its worst economic growth in 80 years, Trudeau said.
"Are you better off now than you were 10 years ago when Stephen Harper became prime minister?" Trudeau asked in his opening remarks, addressing the camera directly.
"If you think this economy is doing great, Mr. Harper is your guy."
Canada has weathered the economic downturn better than other countries, Harper retorted.
"I've never said that things are great," he said. "Over the last 10 years ... where would you rather have been than Canada?"
Harper accused Trudeau of planning to permanently run deficits while opposing small business tax cuts.
"Running a deficit is not the kind of protection our economy needs," he said. "We don't need to spend more just for the sake of being able to say we've spent more."
Mulcair called Trudeau's plan "reckless" and unsustainable. The Liberal plan would leave future generations with billions in debt, Mulcair said.
"We don't need the short-term thinking of the Liberals," Mulcair said.
The two courted left-wing voters, clashing over who should pay more taxes — Mulcair promised to hike taxes and reduce tax havens for large corporations while Trudeau said the Liberals would raise taxes for the wealthiest one per cent.
Mulcair got personal, attacking Trudeau for being creative with his own finances.
"Mr Trudeau, you may be speaking from experience about the shell company you set up for your speaking fees," Mulcair said.
The pair jousted over Mulcair's child-care plan to bring in $15-a-day child care, which Trudeau said would take too long to help those in need now because of his promise to balance the books.
"Mr. Mulcair is not making a choice that's going to allow to invest in his promises. They're puffs of smoke," the Liberal leader said.
"You know a lot about that, don't you, Justin?" Mulcair sneered back — a less-than-subtle reference to Trudeau's support for legalizing marijuana.
Both Trudeau and Mulcair attacked Harper for not acting fast enough to bring in more refugees. People cross oceans to come to Canada, only to have Harper take away their health care, Trudeau said, and security concerns should not be an excuse to close Canada's doors.
"Mr. Harper plays (to) fears all the time," Trudeau replied.
"Fears of others, fears of different communities. We have a prime minister who prefers to pander to fears. That's not right, sir."
Trudeau continued the attack while speaking to reporters following the debate, taking issue with Harper who differentiated between "new, existing and old-stock Canadians."
"The fact that he referred to something called old-stock Canadians demonstrates that yet again, he is choosing to divide Canadians against another," Trudeau said. "(He's) undermining new Canadians' legitimacy. For the Liberal party, for me a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian and it will always stay that way."