The knives were out for Darrell Dexter Thursday night at a lively leaders’ roundtable debate on CTV, with Premier Rodney MacDonald going as far as to compare the NDP leader to a car thief.

At times viewers needed three ears to make out the party leaders talking over each other. But it wasn’t hard to tell who the main target was -- the Liberal and PC leaders repeatedly brought up the $45,000 in donations the NDP returned to unions this week.

"What it's like is someone going out and stealing a car and two weeks later they take the car back and say 'well nothing's been robbed because I took the car back,'" MacDonald said.


“That is absolutely outrageous,” Dexter responded.

The NDP returned the money after it was revealed the Mainland Nova Scotia Building Trades Council had offered to reimburse nine affiliated unions for the donations. Dexter said he did the right thing by returning the money as soon as questions were raised.

But the topic took up a large portion of the 45-minute roundtable. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil compared the donations to the Ernie Fage scandal.

“In 2007 Mr. Dexter said of Mr. MacDonald when the Ernie Fage incident happened, either your staff are keeping something from you or you know about. The same thing applies to you today,” McNeil said.

Dexter challenged the other leaders to end the discussion by agreeing to ban all union and corporate donations. McNeil and MacDonald both said they would be willing to discuss the issue, though their parties voted down a similar NDP bill in January 2007.

Dexter spent much of the time defending himself.

“Engaging in these kinds of personal attacks on the integrity of one leader or another is not what the people of the province want,” Dexter said. “It is why they have become so disenfranchised from the system. It is why they have become so cynical.”

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