Last Tuesday, in a small, packed room at St. Simon Church, Linda McQuaig (NDP), Bill Morneau (Liberal), and Colin Biggin (Green) debated policy, the economy, and Canada’s international role in the first Toronto-Centre debate this election.

McQuaig walked in with an advantage: she was the only candidate applauded on arrival, despite being 12 points behind Morneau, with polls shown to be at 48 per cent in his favour, and Biggin trailing at five per cent.

Economic affairs

McQuaig denounced Morneau’s involvement with the C.D. Howe Institute, a Yonge Street think tank, she accused of corporate bias. She drew loud applause, and one cry of “shame” directed at Morneau when she accused him of having no plan to increase corporate taxes — which Morneau thinks would drive away jobs — or close a corporate stock option that she claims saves many CEOs $6 million each year.

Morneau hit back. He chided McQuaig’s plan to increase corporate tax but not personal tax on the rich, as the Liberals intend. Morneau criticized the NDP’s plan to establish a $15 federal minimum wage on the grounds that it provides “false hope,” since it won’t apply to the majority of Canadians.

According to Morneau, the NDP’s $15 per day child care, designed to knock down barriers for parents trying to get back to work, was likewise disingenuous, since he claims it would not take full effect for eight years

Morneau noted that the Liberals’ commitment to a deficit — spending $60 billion more per year to create infrastructure, employment, and grow the economy — gives them room to make changes right away, without waiting for tax revenue to accrue.

McQuaig responded that of course the NDP plan will take time: “do you think Medicaid was created overnight?” she asked. Though the NDP plan will take time to make change, she said that the Liberal plan is too vague to effect change at all.

Conservative no-show

On some issues, the missing Conservative candidate brought out the unity among those that made it to the debate. All agreed that Canada should accept more refugees and streamline the refugee process, guarantee housing as a right for all Canadians, invest heavily in growing the economy, especially in creating jobs, and work to lower the income-gap in Canada.

Biggin, the self-described underdog, stayed mostly out of the fray. While the NDP and Liberal candidates focused on each other, he was able to advance his own platform points, which he laid out between jabs at Harper’s “gold-plated pension” and jokes about “old stock Canadians.”

He won loud rounds of applause for his promise of a Guaranteed Liveable Income for all Canadians, as well as for committing to scrap tuition fees. “If you take nothing else away from what the Green Party stands for, I want you to take this away: we are going to abolish tuition for students in Canada,” Biggin said.

Biggin believes that eliminating tuition fees, along with the forgiveness of student debt, “will do more to generate businesses and new jobs in the future than probably anything else.”

Biggin kept his answers short, often handing the microphone back long before his time was up. Biggin said that his party has a big role in “the conscience of Canada,” and closed the night by saying, “it would send an unbelievable message if the Greens were elected in Toronto Centre.”