Liberal leadership hopefuls duke it out in debate that has Trudeau on defensive

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Some of Justin Trudeau’s rivals for the Liberal leadership race tried to knock the perceived front-runner off his stride during a debate as he was accused of being too privileged to understand middle-class problems.

One of the most aggressive exchanges Saturday came from former Ontario MP Martha Hall Findlay, who took on Trudeau over his focus on the middle class.

She questioned Trudeau on what he knows about the middle class given his wealth, a challenge that drew some boos from the audience.

“My issue was not personal,” Hall Findlay told reporters afterward. ”My issue was substance and experience.”

”I don’t think of Canada as a class society, I want us to talk about equality of opportunity.”

Trudeau said he is all about putting his privileged life into service for his country and giving back to Canadians.

Trudeau was also scrutinized by rival Marc Garneau.

The astronaut-turned-politician questioned Trudeau on his qualifications for the party’s top job and chided him on a lack of any specific policies.

“What is it in your resume that qualifies you to be the future prime minister of Canada?” Garneau asked Trudeau during the debate.

Garneau went on to accuse Trudeau of talking in generalities on the policy side and said being a good leader takes more than just being a good speaker.

Trudeau stressed his ability to connect with people and said that’s the key to leading the Liberals back to power.

He cited his success in winning his Montreal riding over the Bloc Quebecois two elections ago.

Leadership is about winning, and the next leader must connect with Canadians, Trudeau said.

“You can’t lead from a podium and a press conference, you can’t win over Canadians with a five-point plan, you have to connect with them.”

The Liberals will pick a new leader in April.