OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used Ontario Premier Doug Ford as a boogeyman in a rallying speech to Liberal candidates in Ottawa on Wednesday morning that will likely set the tone for the coming election campaign.Despite pledging to rise above partisan attacks and “the politics of fear and division,” Trudeau spent a large part of his speech criticizing Conservative politicians and warning that a Conservative government would mean only cuts and austerity. He also raised the spectre of former prime minister Stephen Harper, reminding his audience that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has never seemed to mind being referred to as “Harper with a smile.”But it was Ford, not Harper, who seemed to be top of mind for many of the Liberals in attendance. The Ontario premier’s popularity has suffered in recent months, following a cronyism scandal that led to the resignation of his chief of staff, Dean French. Ford has also been criticized for cuts to health care, education, research and legal aid. Polls suggest his performance could hurt the federal Conservatives this fall. “In October, Canadians will have a clear choice to make: cuts and austerity or investing in Canadians,” Trudeau told the more than 200 Liberal candidates assembled around him, in Ottawa for two days of campaign training. “The middle class can’t afford another Doug Ford and it’s up to every single person in this room to make that case by sharing our positive, ambitious vision for the future.”Trudeau insisted the Liberals are above the Conservatives’ “personal attack ads” and “smear campaigns” and have a positive vision for the country. “They throw mud at their opponents and hope we join them in the gutter and when we refuse to stoop to their level, they label us as naïve,” he said.Still, much of his speech amounted to an indirect attack on Scheer by way of Ford, as he argued the Conservatives have “no plan for the future of our country.”“On the campaign trail, Conservative politicians love to say they are for the people,” he said, referencing Ford’s “For the People” campaign slogan. “But we all know too well what happens once they’re in office. … How quickly they’ll make cuts to public health, cuts to municipalities… cuts to child care, cuts to education, cuts to the services Canadians rely on most, because they refuse to understand that you cannot cut your way to prosperity.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Liberal Party candidates in Ottawa, July 31, 2019.
After his speech, members of his cabinet offered a similar message. “When you look at the decisions (Ford) has taken, especially on the environment, Canadians are very preoccupied,” Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told reporters. “So having two levels of Doug Ford would be hurting Canada significantly.”Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said simply, “If you don’t want Doug Ford in Ottawa, then don’t vote for Andrew Scheer.”Trudeau also highlighted what he sees as some of his government’s most notable achievements, including the new Canada Child Benefit and the negotiation of three trade deals. He pointed to his government’s environmental record, including plans to ban single-use plastics and to phase out coal-fired electricity, as well as the new federal carbon tax. He did not mention the government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.“There remains, of course, lots of work to do,” he said. “But we’ve made considerable progress during our first mandate.”In an email, a press secretary for Scheer responded by accusing Trudeau of a record of “failures, broken promises, higher taxes, and endless deficits that threaten the public services that Canadians depend on.”The middle class can’t afford another Doug Ford
“Mr. Scheer’s vision is for a Canada where everybody can get ahead without the government making life more difficult,” Daniel Schow said. “Part of that is balancing the budget so we can stop spending billions on debt interest and instead spend it on Canadians.”Conspicuously absent from Trudeau’s speech on Wednesday was any mention of the NDP, which has been struggling in the polls with weak fundraising results. Speaking to reporters after the speech, Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly said the Liberals would never take anything for granted, but framed the election as a battle between only two parties.“We trust the fact that Canadians understand that they will be electing a government,” she said. “There are two parties that historically have been able to govern the country and it is a contrast between the Conservatives and the Liberals that Canadians will have basically to choose from.”The election will take place on Oct. 21, and the Liberals’ two-day training camp is meant to give new candidates the tools they need during the campaign. “Some days are harder than others. It’s normal,” Trudeau told them. “In those times, forget all the noise around you. Concentrate instead on the people you want to represent.”• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: MauraForrest