1984: Mulroney vs Turner
In 1984, Progressive Conservative party leader Brian Mulroney dealt a knock-out blow to his opponent, Liberal John Turner when he brought up the number of appointments made by Trudeau shortly before leaving politics.
Turner tried to distance himself from these appointments by saying he had no option, but Mulroney set him straight on that, saying “You had an option… you could have said: ‘I am not going to do it.’”
1988: Turner vs Mulroney
Before the 1988 debates, Liberal Party Leader John Turner had his nightgown on and was headed for his political deathbed. He knew that a good showing in front of Canadians needed to happen to turn things around, and Turner made his move during the English-language debate.
Two hours in, Turner readied his haymaker for Brian Mulroney over Canada’s free trade deal with the United States, beginning with the memorable line, “I happen to believe that you sold us out.”
The resultant clash worked in Turner’s favour; his party didn’t win the election, but the Liberals seat count doubled.
2000: Joe Clark vs Stockwell Day
Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day continually made headlines for all the wrong reasons, and is most memorable for riding to a press conference on a jet ski. While that PR stunt backfired terribly, the English-language debate in 2000 went much the same way. When CTV’s Craig Oliver asked Day whether Canada’s sick healthcare system was fixable, and how, Stockwell railed against Chretien, accused him of lying to Canadians and then shared his briefing notes, holding up a single sign that read: NO 2-TIER HEALTHCARE.
Joe Clark responded, “More and more I think he must be running for office as some kind of gameshow host, not as the Prime Minister of the country.” Clark responded.
The Canadian Alliance was decimated after that debate, and Day was booted out.
2006: Stephen Harper vs Paul Martin
The 2006 election pitted an unflappable Stephen Harper against Paul Martin, a Liberal leader who had risen to prominence as a finance minister within the government of Jean Chretien. At that time, Paul Martin was wearing the sponsorship scandal that emerged from the Chretien Government, and Harper took full advantage of this during the debate. “How many criminal investigations are going on in his office?”
While Martin had little to do with the scandal, Harper effectively portrayed the Liberals as corrupt.
2011: Jack Layton vs Michael Ignatieff
The 2011 election was very close to the end of then-Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s wild (and short) rise to political prominence. The NDP’s Jack Layton struck a chord with Canadians when he asked Ignatieff about why he had the worst attendance record in the House of Commons. Ignatieff, who had struggled with connecting to everyday Canadians, smiled as Layton was skewering him, and then responded by saying he would take no lessons on respect for democracy from Layton. Layton’s line: “If you don’t show up for work, you don’t get a promotion” resonated loudly among viewers and was repeated all over the news the following day
The Liberals were crushed in that election, and Ignatieff’s run in politics was effectively over.