Justin Trudeau shoots back at Marc Garneau during Liberal leadership debate

HALIFAX – Liberal Justin Trudeau accused a rival of resorting to negative tactics during a leadership debate Sunday as he attacked assertions that his bid for the party’s top job has been heavy on rhetoric but light on detail.

Trudeau took Marc Garneau to task during a one-on-one at the debate in Halifax, saying that the Liberals don’t want to see the party “turned in on each other.”

“That’s why I’m relentlessly positive in this campaign, and that’s why the top-down, backroom heavy negative campaign that has been run by other people in this campaign is something that I don’t think Liberals want to see,” said Trudeau, who has boasted about running a positive campaign.

The sparring between the two Quebec MPs was one of the more spirited exchanges in the two-hour debate that also saw candidates attack Joyce Murray’s plan to work with the NDP and Greens to defeat the Conservatives.

Garneau said Trudeau has been ducking the big issues, telling the perceived front-runner that Canadians deserve more than platitudes.

“I believe that Canadians want to see substance. They don’t want empty words,” Garneau said. “They may not like what I have to say, but at least they will know where I stand.”

Trudeau said he has voiced his views on a variety of issues, citing his opposition to the Northern Gateway oil pipeline and support for the legalization of marijuana as examples.

“I’ve been just as specific as everybody else,” Trudeau replied.

Trudeau has increasingly found himself the subject of attacks in recent weeks as the Liberal leadership vote nears.

Garneau has taken repeated direct shots at Trudeau, accusing him of being an untested, inexperienced rookie, and has challenged Trudeau to a one-on-one debate, an invitation that was declined.

Murray’s proposal to co-operate with the NDP and the Greens to defeat the Conservatives in the 2015 election also drew fire from several candidates.

Trudeau briefly complimented Murray for attracting new supporters to the Liberals, but quickly dismissed her idea.

“You have to know that if you make a deal with the NDP, that positive approach is the first thing to go out the window,” he said.

Trudeau pointed to a recently released Nova Scotia NDP attack ad that portrays that province’s Liberal leader, Stephen McNeil, as wanting to import electricity from Quebec rather than from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.

“Here in Nova Scotia, we have an NDP premier who is attacking Quebec and Quebecers and as a Quebecer who loves Nova Scotia, that’s not something that interests me,” said Trudeau.

“We need better than that.”

Garneau asked Murray how she could reconcile her position when NDP Leader Tom Mulcair “wants to crush us.”

“Marc, as you know, I’m talking about a one-time co-operation,” Murray replied.

“Kind of like a Canadian hockey team coming together in the Olympics in 2010 and winning gold and then going back and competing with each other once again.”

Martin Cauchon also criticized the proposal and ruled out any merger with the NDP if he wins the Liberal leadership.

“Look at what happened last week,” Cauchon said, referring to Claude Patry’s defection to the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

“If they ever merge with a party, I believe it’s going to be with the Bloc Quebecois.”

The Halifax debate was the fourth of five for the contenders. The last one is scheduled for March 23 in Montreal before the Liberals choose their new leader on April 14.

Sunday was also the deadline for the eight candidates to sign up new supporters for the Liberal party and their candidacies.

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