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Election debate, Round 2: Mulcair, Trudeau, Harper drop the gloves

In what felt more like a televised shouting match than a policy discussion, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper spent much of Thursday’s debate trying to convince the audience the other guys don’t deserve their vote.

Thursday’s debate in Calgary focused on the economy, jobs, the energy sector and budgets. It’s the marathon 78-day campaign’s second debate with the three major party leaders.

While the three men did spend some time touting their own policies (Trudeau’s infrastructure funding; Mulcair’s childcare plan; Harper’s balanced budgets and boutique tax credits), they spent most of the time attacking each other’s policies and records.

READ MORE: Highlights from the second leaders debate of the 2015 campaign 

And much of the debate involved the three candidates, and the moderator David Walmsley, all talking incomprehensibly over each other.

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What they promised

Trudeau: $20 billion for clean energy; increased income taxes on wealthiest while cutting them for the middle class; three straight years of deficits to invest in infrastructure.

Mulcair: $15-a-day childcare, which he said “will be good for the economy, but it will also be good for women”; increased corporate taxes; a carbon tax (although he couldn’t put a price on it) and his party’s opposition to Keystone XL.

“I want to create those 40,000 jobs in Canada. … Let’s add value to our natural resources here. That’s the way to sustainably develop our resources,” he said.

(Economists have criticized this focus on “value-added” resource industry jobs.)

Harper: Tax free Savings Accounts; income splitting for seniors and families with young children; home renovation tax credits; cuts to the GST; $1 billion for green energy.

Harper boasted about his record as Prime Minister, highlighting his tax cuts and telling voters they’re safest with a stable status quo.

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“We are the only party not talking about raising any of your taxes going forward, or raising deficits going forward. And this is, in an unstable global world, the kind of plan we need,” he said.

What they disagreed on

Trudeau touted his $120 billion infrastructure plan, and said he was proud to run a deficit in order to make it happen.

“If this isn’t the time to invest, when would be?”

Regarding stimulus-driven deficits, which the federal Conservatives used to nudge Canada out of its recessionary slump, Walmsley asked Harper if Trudeau was “on to something.”

Harper laughed.

“Absolutely not.”

“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.”

Trudeau and Mulcair sparred over Mulcair’s promise of a $15 minimum wage for federally regulated workers, which Trudeau criticized for its limited scope. (The federal government can’t impose a national minimum wage: That’s provincial jurisdiction.)

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They also traded barbs over the NDP’s $15-a-day child care promise, which Mulcair said is important for women, the labour market and the economy but which Trudeau argued gives money to people who don’t need it instead of subsidizing the poorest people more.

Harper picked on Mulcair and Trudeau, saying they’d both raise taxes on everyone. (They won’t, but Mulcair is open to raising corporate taxes, and Trudeau wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest.)

The Conservative leader spent less time talking than his two opponents, portraying himself as more careful and prudent than Trudeau or Mulcair.

He also defended the government’s record on immigration and refugee resettlement.

He raised ire and eyebrows with his statement that new and “old stock” Canadians support his government’s refugee strategy, however.

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So will the debate change the minds of undecided voters?

Probably not. The people most likely to watch debates are also most likely to have already decided whom to vote for, said University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman.

“The people that will determine the election are the ones that don’t watch the debate; it’s a substantial group which gives very little attention to things like this,” he said.

“Very few undecided voters watch this thing.”

Wiseman said each of the three leaders had their bright spots; Trudeau was passionate at times, Harper played on his experience, and Mulcair looked “prime ministerial.”

“Harper spoke like a person who had experience and Trudeau like someone who’s hoping, hoping to get there, and on a promise, like ‘Trust me,’” Wiseman said, adding that Mulcair got a few “very good jabs in there.”

Trudeau’s problem, Wiseman said, is that he still comes across as the most inexperienced on economic issues.

“When people look at all three of them, people look at him as the least you can trust on an economic issue because he doesn’t have the experience.”

Trudeau said in post-debate scrums that he’d leave it up to pundits and voters to rate his performance in the debate.

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