POLITICS

Mulcair 'Thrilled' With Maclean's Debate, Which Could Also Be His Last

08/07/2015 12:26 EDT | Updated 08/07/2016 05:59 EDT

NDP leader Tom Mulcair says he's thrilled with his performance in his first national election debate — which is good news for him as it could end up being his only English debate during the entire 11-week campaign.

His team is studying two dozen proposals for more debates, but he has said he won't participate unless Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part along with the other main party leaders.

"I have every intention of taking part in other debates,'' Mulcair said Friday in Peterborough, Ont.

"But it goes without saying that since Stephen Harper is the person I'm looking to defeat and replace I'll take part in debates where he's present. Otherwise it wouldn't make much sense, would it?''

Mulcair urged Harper to agree to the traditional televised debate organized by a consortium of broadcasters — something the prime minister has rejected.

"We're more than willing to work and take part in the consortium debate, but we're also expecting Stephen Harper to say the same thing,'' Mulcair said.

Mulcair, who only became leader in 2012 — after the last federal election in 2011 — said debates such as the one on Thursday contribute to democracy.

He called it a "worthwhile exercise'' and said he looked forward to several more but insisted there should also be an equal number of debates in English and French.

"There are two official languages in this country and one of those languages is not more equal than the other,'' he said at an early-morning event in Toronto.

"As prime minister, I'm going to make sure that the reality and equality of our official languages is understood, and I have to start sending a clear signal now.''

The only leaders' debate confirmed so far in French is scheduled for Oct. 2.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe told The Canadian Press that Thursday's debate was disrespectful to Quebecers since the other leaders debated the terms of a hypothetical referendum in the absence of the only separatist leader of a federal party.

Mulcair wouldn't respond directly to Duceppe's remarks but said that's why everyone — to the extent possible — should be included in each debate.

Speaking in Peterborough, the New Democrat couldn't resist a dig at the central Ontario city's former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, who was convicted of cheating on his campaign expenses in the 2008 election.

"The Conservative track record in this region with their past performance is something that makes people here really, strongly, desire change for the better,'' Mulcair said, to laughter from the crowd.

Mulcair's final condition for further debates — he said the parties have received about 25 proposals to date — was that the organizers be non-partisan.

"That should go without saying,'' he said, "But sometimes what goes without saying goes even better when you say it.''

The NDP leader, who polls suggest is the front-runner for the Oct. 19 vote, said he accomplished what he set out to do in Thursday's debate.

The goal, he said, was to speak directly to Canadians and show them that Harper's economic plan has failed.

"Mr. Harper finally admitted it: We are in a second recession,'' Mulcair said.

"It was my first debate and I quite enjoyed the experience and I'm looking forward to more.''

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