The Liberal leadership candidates took turns at perceived front runner Justin Trudeau during the third debate Saturday, with Martha Hall Findlay raising the issue of “class” and his privileged background.

During an exchange about the need to overhaul Canada’s tax system, former Liberal MP Hall Findlay told Trudeau that he doesn’t belong to the middle class and has openly admitted it. She made her comments first in French, then pushed them again in English remarks at the end of the debate.

After the audience jeered Hall Findlay, Trudeau responded, stating that as a Liberal he has always made service to his community his main priority.

“That is what my identity is all about,” he said.

Trudeau, the eldest son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, later returned to the podium, smiling, to close out the debate.

Hall Findlay told reporters afterward that her comments were not a personal attack on Trudeau.

“My issue was substance and experience,” she said. “I don’t think of Canada as a class society, I want us to talk about equality of opportunity.

"We want a leader in this party... who can sit at a table with (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel and have a really strong discussion about the Euro zone, or with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin and talk about how we deal with natural gas deposits under the Arctic," Hall Findlay said.

MP Marc Garneau also pressed Trudeau during the debate, held in Mississauga, Ont. Early on, Garneau questioned Trudeau’s credentials to lead the party and accused him of speaking in generalities.

Earlier in the week, Garneau accused Trudeau of offering only vague platitudes and urged him to set out a detailed platform.

"What is it in your resume that qualifies you to be the future prime minister of Canada?" he asked Trudeau.

Trudeau responded by speaking about his positions on trade and post-secondary education, which he posted to his website hours before the debate.

Trudeau accused Garneau of focusing too much on detailed policy announcements and not on connecting with voters. He stressed his ability to connect with people and said that's the key to leading the Liberals back to power.

"You can't lead from a podium and a press conference, you can't win over Canadians with a five-point plan," Trudeau said.

"You have to connect with them."

The third debate featured lively exchanges between the candidates on a range of issues including immigration, youth unemployment, infrastructure, trade and Canada’s tax system.

During the first hour, the candidates were arranged in pairs and each candidate was given the chance to ask an opponent a single question about a policy issue.

In the second hour, the candidates were set up in three-way debates and answered questions posed by the moderator and audience members.

Vying for the leadership position are MPs Justin Trudeau, Joyce Murray and Marc Garneau. Also in the race are former MPs Martha Hall Findlay and Martin Cauchon, while lawyers David Bertschi, Deborah Coyne and George Takach and retired Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon round out the group.

The final two leadership debates will be held in Halifax and Montreal before the party selects its new leader in April.

With files from The Canadian Press