OTTAWA - All three main federal parties concentrated on homegrown, hot-button issues and largely kept their foreign policy powder dry ahead of the next leader's debate.
New Democrats put themselves squarely in the spotlight with Tom Mulcair outlining, in broad strokes, the party's plan to address climate change. But in a half-hour long question and answer session with party members and the media, he forcefully reiterated his case to repeal two signature pieces of the Harper government's security and anti-terror agenda.
Not to be outdone, the Conservatives rolled out two cabinet ministers to take shots at the Liberals over Justin Trudeau's suggestion his party would scrap some aspects of the mandatory minimum sentencing law, another marquee piece of legislation for a government that paints itself as tough on crime.
Tony Clement and Julian Fantino, speaking in Vaughan, Ont., also went after Trudeau for interview comments earlier in the weekend where he was quoted as saying deficits are a way of measuring economic growth and success of a government.
Both ministers, additionally, piled on the $146 billion costing of the Liberal platform, released Saturday in Ottawa, saying it would "destabilize" the economy.
Trudeau and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper were both off the campaign trail in anticipation of Monday's foreign policy debate.
Mulcair, in Toronto to talk climate change, gave a taste of how acrimonious the exchange could get by accusing the Conservatives of holding back until the middle of the election campaign on the plan to strip the citizenship of the convicted Toronto 18 terror ringleader.
Zakaria Amara, a Jordanian-Canadian, had his Canadian citizenship formally revoked under Bill C-24, controversial legislation passed in the spring.
"This is Mr. Harper strutting his stuff for his right-wing base," Mulcair said. "This is a game being played on the backs of all Canadians who have different origins than 'old stock Canadians' and I'm going to stand up against it.
"I find it lamentable that in a free and democratic society, someone takes joy in saying that we're going to have two levels of citizenship. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian."
He repeated earlier pledges to repeal and rewrite parts of C-24 — known as the Strengthening Citizenship Act — in particular the revocation and intent-to-reside clauses that have become the subject a constitutional challenge. Mulcair also said an NDP government would repeal Bill C-51, the government's lightning rod surveillance bill, during the first session of a new Parliament.
"We know the safest societies are those that protect and defend the rights and freedoms of their citizens," he said.
All of that is potentially grist for Monday's debate.
Earlier in the day Sunday, Fantino took questions on the Amara case and kept his sights firmly locked on Trudeau, who is also in favour of scrapping portions of C-24.
"Let's get real," Fantino said while suggesting the Liberal leader was making excuses for both terrorists and hardened criminals. At times, his tough comments on mandatory minimum sentences turned into a tirade, where he said criminals don't take advantage of the "great services" in prison for rehabilitation and career offenders who are kept "isolated and insulated" don't reoffend when they are released.
Almost lost in the shuffle was the NDP's plan to address climate change, one that would allow provinces to opt out if their efforts to minimize carbon emissions are as good or better than those of the federal government.
"We're not going to replace something that's working," Mulcair said. "The important thing is to set the (national) objective.
The money raised by the federal government through putting a price on carbon would go to the provinces for reinvestment in additional measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.