CALGARY — Tom Mulcair tried to position himself as a prudent and progressive alternative to his Conservative rival Thursday as he declared the untested NDP ready and poised to take the reins of the economy.
"For the first time in our history, there is another choice," Mulcair told voters during the leaders' debate in Calgary, hosted by the Globe and Mail newspaper.
The rhetorical battle, which focused on economic themes, could prove to be a critical juncture in the marathon election campaign as all three leaders try to nose ahead in what by all indications is a narrow, three-way race.
Mulcair, who found himself under attack from both Liberal and Conservative flanks, attacked the Tories for using a "rip and ship" approach to resource development.
"Mr. Harper put all of his eggs into one basket and then he dropped the basket," Mulcair said.
"I'm tired of watching successive Liberal and Conservative governments dump these massive ecological, economic and social debts on the backs of future generations."
Mulcair also ripped into Harper over Keystone XL, the controversial pipeline project to ship Alberta oilsands bitumen to the U.S. Gulf Coast, arguing he wants to keep jobs in Canada instead of sending them south of the border.
"Forty thousand Canadian jobs would be exported to the United States with Keystone XL," Mulcair said.
"That's not our figure, that's the government of Canada's figure under Mr. Harper's Conservatives. 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."
Harper has criticized the NDP for not supporting Keystone.
"Mr. Mulcair, when you export your product it creates jobs on both sides of the border," Harper said.
"That's why trade is a good thing."
The NDP has never formed a federal government and faces pressure to prove how it will finance its big-ticket promises — $2.44 billion on health care in this week alone — while it also balances the books.
The party tried to lay out its scheme on paper Wednesday to quash some questions about its fiscal plans.
One of the key elements of the New Democratic fiscal framework is the party's decision to cost the plan based on oil at $67 a barrel.
Oil currently sits at $47 a barrel, almost 30 per cent less.
Mulcair defended the numbers when he was pressed by reporters.
"The numbers that we've put forward are the best ones that were put forward by the PBO (parliamentary budget officer), by the Finance Department of the government of Canada and we're very proud of having done what the others have refused to do," Mulcair said.
The NDP leader has called on the Grits and Tories to put forward their financial plans.
"I think the most important thing to know is NDP is the only party to have published a complete costing and I'm very proud of that, it was part of the discussion tonight," he said.
During the debate, Mulcair accused Harper of hitting the "snooze button" on the economy and promised he would "not hit the panic button" as Justin Trudeau has on government spending and economic stimulus.
Trudeau's Liberals made a bold political play when they announced they would run deficits of up to $10-billion a year for the next three years to funnel money into infrastructure projects.
The NDP's economic plan, on the other hand, is stay out of the red and run an annual surplus.
The party plans to reach this goal by generating revenues through boosting the corporate income tax rate to 17 per cent from 15 per cent, for a total of $3.7 billion annually.
The party also plans to end fossil fuel subsidies to raise $240 million a year and close stock option loopholes for CEOs and senior executives, worth another $500 million annually.
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