Justin Trudeau survives and thrives amid personal attacks at the latest Liberal leadership debate

If Canadians were waiting for rock-em sock-em action in the Liberal leadership race, they finally got it on Saturday afternoon.

The latest leadership debate, which took place in Mississauga, had candidates taking turns attacking front runner Justin Trudeau.

"Leadership is about much more than being a motivational speaker, it's about making some very very difficult decisions often on your own," Marc Garneau said during the first one-on-one debate of the afternoon.

"So please tell us what in your resume qualifies you to be the leader of the country."

Trudeau responded with his take on what leadership is.

"Leadership is about drawing people in and about involving Canadians in the kinds of conversations we have. And you can't lead from a podium in a press conference. You can't win over Canadians with a five point plan," he said.

"You have to connect with them. And we have to make room for Canadians in the debate that we have coming forward."

[ Related: Trudeau fights tears following Belleville cop's gift of father's famous photo]

The other attack, of note, came towards the end of the debate when Martha Hall Findlay chose to challenge Trudeau about his claim that he's standing up for middle class Canadians.

"I have to say Justin you keep referring to the middle class. You yourself have admitted that you actually don't belong to the middle class. I find it a little challenging to understand that how you would understand the challenges facing all Canadians," she asked.

"When did Canada become a society about classes?"

Trudeau's response elicited a huge applause from the 800 plus Liberal supporters in the audience. It also got a lot of praise on Twitter.

"I've been lucky in my life to have been given an opportunity to go to great schools, to travel around the world," he said with passion.

"But what's important for me is to put everything that I've received — like each of wants to — in service of my community."

[ Related: Justin Trudeau under fire for earning speaking fees while serving as a Member of Parliament ]

Next up was George Takach in the post-debate scrums. When asked if Trudeau has the credentials to be the leader of the party, Takach gave a vague response. When asked again he said: "Next question."

You can bet that the Conservative party negative attack ad producers are salivating at the chance to get access to the video from this debate — video of Trudeau's colleagues questioning his abilities.

Aside from the Conservative party's opportunity, the first take-away from this debate is that the 'love-in' is over.

With just two weeks for members and supporters to sign up and two months until the leader gets elected, the likes of Garneau, Finlay, Murray, Cauchon and Takach have to attack Trudeau if they have any chance of winning.

The second — and more important — takeaway is that Justin Trudeau is proving that he is more than capable of defending himself against attacks.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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