Politics
Grit leadership hopefuls all attack, no debate

Federal Liberal Party leadership candidates wave to audience prior to a debate in Vancouver, British Columbia January 20, 2013.

Credits: REUTERS/Andy Clark

RICHARD ZUSSMAN | QMI AGENCY

VANCOUVER -- A crowded Liberal Party of Canada leadership field stepped on stage together for the first time on Sunday, but what was billed as a debate amongst candidates came out much more like a nine-way attack on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The candidates took very few shots at each other during the two-hour debate at the Bayshore Westin in Vancouver, instead saving their shots for the Conservatives.

"One of the problems with Harper's record is he is fake economist," Toronto tech lawyer George Takach said. "The Liberal party will do a much better job and they need experienced leadership that knows how to get these things done."

The format of the debate did not lend itself to deep policy discussion, with many candidates being cut off multiple times after exceeding their allotted time.

The one noted scrimmage took place over the issues of electoral reform.

All nine candidates rejected the idea of a merger of the NDP and Liberals, a move supported by former prime minister Jean Chretien.

Vancouver MP Joyce Murray was the closest to call for a merger with the suggestion the NDP, Greens and Liberals have electoral run-offs before federal elections to stand one candidate against the Conservatives in certain ridings.

"I am the only one calling for co-operation between the other parties to defeat Prime Minister Harper," she said. "We can create a new system that is representative where we can work all together." Trudeau fired back against the idea of running only one major party candidate against Harper in potential split vote ridings.

"Canadians want someone to vote for, not against" said Trudeau said. "It is not enough to just replace Stephen Harper with someone else. We need to get a better government."

Trudeau came into the debate with most eyes on him. He also seems to have the attention of his fellow candidates.

Montreal-area MP Marc Garneau took a perceived shot at Trudeau in his closing remarks.

"This is a critical time in life of the Liberals, the most crucial we have ever faced, we have to get this right. The Liberal party needs a strong leader, leadership is what you have accomplished, it is having a proven track record, that is what I bring to the contest," the former astronaut said.

Sunday's debate was the first of five before the Liberal Party elects a leader on April 14.

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