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The 15 Most Important Things That Happened In The First Canadian Election Debate

Everything you need to know about what happened at the #macdebate.

Canada's four main political leaders faced off in a two-hour televised debate Thursday night, the first of the 2015 federal election campaign.

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

The debate, hosted by Maclean's, featured jabs, burns, and a few fresh revelations. Here are the highlights.

1. Green party Leader Elizabeth May delivered a fiery shot at Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “You sold us down the river in Asia.”

Mark Blinch / Reuters

She was criticizing the prime minister over the recent Canada-China trade deal, known commonly as FIPA, which will be in place until 2045.

2. She also aggressively pursued NDP Leader Tom Mulcair over his position on the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. She demanded he say definitively whether he opposes it.

May is putting the HEAT on Mulcair for pipelines. Battle for the BC vote is escalating. #macdebate #cdnpoli

Mulcair responded by citing examples that showed the pipeline approval process in Canada is broken. He said his party would restore objectivity to the process.

3. Harper effectively withstood economic criticisms from all three of his opponents. They cited his Conservative government's repeated budget deficits and signs from banks that the country is teetering toward recession.


4. "What's your number?" Mulcair cheekily asked Trudeau during an exchange about separatism, demanding the Liberal leader state how many votes he thinks are required to split up the country.


Trudeau had attacked Mulcair over his stance on separatism, saying the former Québec cabinet minister would repeal the Clarity Act.

Trudeau responded:

“You want a number? I’ll give you a a number. Nine!” That actually just happened. #macdebate

(Nine is the number of Supreme Court justices who ruled the country could not be broken up based on a sole referendum.)

Mulcair accused Trudeau of being the only person, aside from Bloc Québecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, thinking about separatism.

For his part, Harper said virtually nobody in Canada is thinking about separatism anymore.

5. Despite — somewhat surprisingly — coming out strong on national security, Trudeau admitted his support for the Tories' controversial Bill C-51 was perhaps "naïve."

Trudeau’s “perhaps I was naive” line on trying to take a nuanced position, reminds me of the “I care too much” answer in job interviews.

6. But, overall, his sass game was strong. He repeatedly told Harper, "Nobody believes you."


Harper was responding to an environment-related question.

7. Trudeau also accused “this government, that likes to wrap itself in the flag,” of mistreating veterans.

Mark Blinch / Reuters

8. Basically, ✋🏼

This joins that Paul Dewar facepalm in the #cdnpoli GIF kit. #macdebate

9. Mulcair seemed highly chill at times, but unleashed his own sass when the whole Senate thing came up.

Maclean's / BuzzFeed Canada

He kept that smile, though.

10. Moderator Paul Wells asked a tough question on the same topic: Will the prime minister apologize for appointing many of the Senators who now find themselves in hot water?

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Harper noted he didn't appoint all of the senators who are in trouble.

11. He also said:

Stephen Harper on the senate scandal #elxn42 #cdnpoli

12. Harper admitted to ordering the Senate to kill a bill on carbon limits that passed in the House of Commons.

I’m truly surprised Harper would admit he “asked” Senators to kill a bill passed by the House. #macdebate

13. Mulcair came hard at Harper over his government's alleged anti-Islam messaging (without actually using the word) by citing a Conservative backbencher's comments on Muslim women.

Mulcair dredges up: "Muslim women should go the hell back to where they came from." "Mr. Harper is about to sign his nomination papers."

Harper denied targeting Muslims, saying it was "absolutely" not the case, He said his government was simply trying to prevent terrorist attacks like the one that took place Oct. 22 in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

14. Lastly, Trudeau's attempt at a long pause to cap off his closing statement backfired when Wells cut the former drama teacher off, thinking he was done.

Maclean's / BuzzFeed Canada

15. Paul Wells = Kanye

Yes, they argued hard. But look at all those smiles at the end.

Mark Blinch / Reuters

Bisous, even!

Emma Loop was a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Emma Loop at

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