OTTAWA (Reuters) - Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, needing a boost to revive his campaign to become Canada’s prime minister, came out swinging in an election debate on Thursday, but his opponents delivered their own blows, suggesting there was no clear winner.
Ahead of the debate, most polls showed the ruling Conservatives slightly trailing the official opposition New Democrats ahead of the Oct. 19 election, with the Liberals well behind.
Trudeau, derided by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair as not being ready to take power, said the Conservatives had failed to manage a sluggish economy suffering from low oil prices.
“Canadians across this country know that times are tough. And the fact is, you have become completely disconnected from the reality that people are facing,” Trudeau told Harper.
The Conservatives, in power since 2006, are seeking a rare fourth consecutive mandate.
Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker said Trudeau, the 43-year-old son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, had fallen short of making a major breakthrough.
“Trudeau really had to break out. (I) didn’t see it. He fought hard though,” he said.
The Liberals are competing with the New Democrats for the same center-left segment of the electorate, and Trudeau also took several swings at Mulcair.
Pollster Nik Nanos said none of the participants had landed a killer blow, though Trudeau and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who also took part, looked the most comfortable, he added. May, whose party now has just two legislators, also won praise on social media for a strong debate performance.
“With an election this long, it is hard to see the impact of a debate two months away from election date,” Nanos said.
Harper acknowledged the economy is facing challenges but said only the low-tax center-right Conservatives could be trusted to confront the problems.
“The way you deal with this is by sticking with ... a prudent plan that is working rather than go to a plan of high taxes and high debt and high deficits which is failing everywhere else,” he said.
Harper accused both main opposition parties of wanting to raise spending by tens of billions of dollars, which he said was unsustainable.
Mulcair, whose party has never held power at the federal level, said that Canada had lost 400,000 well-paying manufacturing jobs.
“Obviously Mr Harper, we can’t afford another four years of you,” he said.
Both Harper and Trudeau attacked Mulcair for his position that the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec should be allowed to separate with a simple majority vote.
After Quebec came within a hair’s breadth of voting to split from Canada in 1995, the then-Liberal government passed a law saying a clear majority would have to vote in favor.
“Why would we go down the road of talking about how we can best break up the country when in fact Quebeckers clearly do not want to do that?” said Harper.
Don Martin, host of a televised daily political show on CTV, observed: “No killer zingers. Nobody knocked out. No serious flubs.”
Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Alan Crosby and Ken Wills