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It took just seconds Thursday for the sponsorship scandal to be used as a weapon to pound Prime Minister Paul Martin in the first of the nationally broadcast leaders' debates.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said Martin's Liberal government has "lost the moral authority" to govern because of the scandal. "The sponsorship scandal is an incontestable issue," Duceppe said. "Justice Gomery ruled that the Liberal party brought itself into dishonour and that a system of bribes was in place."
"I think this is a dark time for democracy in Canada," New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton said.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper rounded out the sponsorship attack, telling Canadians they have a choice on Jan. 23 to turf the Liberals.
"This government needs to be replaced in order to be held accountable," Harper said.
The divisive issue of same-sex marriage triggered the most emotion-charged confrontation of the English-language election debate Friday, with accusations of hidden agendas and hypocrisy.