09/17/2015 09:42 EDT | Updated 09/18/2015 12:59 EDT

Globe And Mail Debate: Harper Blasts Trudeau, Mulcair Over Economic Policies

Harper ridiculed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his plans to run deficits.

CALGARY — Stephen Harper blasted his two main rivals in the leaders' debate Thursday for economic policies which he says will cost thousands of jobs and hit Canadians in the pocketbook.

Harper ridiculed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his plans to run deficits.

As for the NDP, the Conservative leader says the party has left every province in which it's been elected in a financial mess.

"They left Ontario in a massive deficit, they left British Columbia in a massive deficit, Manitoba is in a massive deficit, Alberta's deficit has gotten larger since they took office. The former Saskatchewan auditor general says they left Saskatchewan in a deficit because of tax hikes," Harper said.

"They do not grow the economy, they do not create jobs. They kill jobs and they hurt revenues. We don't want to go down that path," he added.

"Mr. Trudeau says we will have more optimism by spending more. I actually think this is what Canadians fear. We don't measure our level of optimism through our level of spending."

Harper benefited from the free-for-all exchanges between the three leaders. Instead of being the focus of the attacks, he was able to stand back and watch Trudeau and Mulcair trade barbs with each other.

He returned to his theme from the campaign trail this week: criticizing both parties for their policies on small business.

"Mr. Trudeau is opposed to our cuts to small business taxes. He said a large percentage of small businesses is just wealthy people avoiding taxes. Small business is the backbone of the middle class," said Harper in one of a number of heated exchanges with both men.

"Both of these parties talk about cutting taxes for small business. What they also propose is hikes to payroll taxes...that are 10 times bigger than the tax cuts they are promising small business."

Harper was able to battle back at accusations from Mulcair that his government had been unsuccessful in getting any energy projects completed in the United States by saying the NDP leader is partially responsible for that.

"Mr. Mulcair, you actually are the only leader in Canadian history to have gone to another country where you and your colleagues went to the United States to argue against Canadian jobs and against Canadian development projects," Harper said.

The Conservative leader has delighted in discussing economic issues over the past week of the campaign, especially after the Finance Department announced a small federal surplus for the 2014-15 fiscal year. So Thursday's economics debate played into Harper's hand.

But the prime minister's opponents did manage to draw him into other topics where he appeared more vulnerable — climate change and Syrian refugee policy in particular.

"Mr. Harper plays fears all the time. Fears of others, fears of different communities. We have a prime minister who prefers to pander to fears. That's not right, sir," Trudeau said.

Mulcair chimed in.

"Canadians want a prime minister who understands the sense of urgency we all feel when we see the current crisis in Syria. Mr. Harper unfortunately, and it's undignified, is fearmongering," he said.

"It's completely false to affirm any of the parties in Canada would want to throw open the doors to people without any regard to security."

Harper stood his ground.

"These guys would have had, in the last two weeks, us throwing open our borders and literally hundreds of thousands of people coming without any kind of security check or documentation," he retorted.

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