TORONTO -- The first televised debate will give voters an opportunity to see that the Oct. 19 election is about choice, New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair said Thursday.
Speaking at a campaign rally hours before the face-off with his three opponents, Mulcair defined that choice as between the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the NDP.
"Mr. Harper has given us eight deficits in a row, $150 billion in new debt...and he's got one of the worst job-creation records in Canadian history,'' Mulcair told enthusiastic supporters at a candidate's constituency office.
"You have to go all the way back to the crisis of the 1920 to find someone with a worse economic record.''
An NDP government, he said, would do better. It would kick-start the economy with investments in infrastructure, champion manufacturing, and lower small business taxes.
The debate featuring the four main party leaders marks the first time Mulcair will be participating in such a tussle. He only took over as party leader in March 2012 after the death of his predecessor, Jack Layton, who had led the party into the last election in 2011.
Mulcair, 60, said he was looking forward to the tangle that many pundits say can have a profound impact on a leader's electoral fortunes.
Echoing Layton's words, Mulcair said the NDP wants to replace the "politics of fear and division with the politics of hope and optimism.''
During his familiar stump speech, the NDP leader declared that Harper's approach has been a failure -- leaving the middle class struggling to make ends meet.
He pledged again to repeal Harper's "reprehensible'' Bill C-51, which expands the powers for the country's spy agencies but has been widely criticized for a lack of oversight measures. The NDP would also scrap income splitting and lower the retirement age from 67 to 65, he said.
"After Oct. 19, your NDP MPs are going to repair the damage done by Stephen Harper,'' Mulcair declared.
He also attacked the prime minister for failing to attend a single meeting of the Council of the Federation, a gathering of the country's first ministers. As prime minister, Mulcair said, he would have no hesitation in sitting down with the premiers to discuss federal-provincial issues.
"It doesn't matter what political stripe they are, I have the obligation to work with each and every one of them, and that's precisely what I'll do.''
The party leader again touted his plan for a $15-a-day national child-care program, saying it would benefit many families and be good for the overall economy.
Harper spent Thursday preparing for the debate, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau offered only a photo opportunity, saying he would answer questions at the debate.
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