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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a campaign rally with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for Elizabeth Roy, Ontario Liberal candidate for Whitby-Oshawa, in Whitby on Tuesday. (Fred Thornhill/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a campaign rally with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for Elizabeth Roy, Ontario Liberal candidate for Whitby-Oshawa, in Whitby on Tuesday. (Fred Thornhill/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

politics

Trudeau helps stump for Wynne in Ontario by-election Add to ...

Justin Trudeau swooped into Zingers Sports Bar on Tuesday night to lend a little “sunny ways” afterglow to his provincial counterparts ahead of a by-election in this Toronto-area suburb on Thursday.

“In the last election, hope trumped fear. … Ya think that people would have learned from that,” he said, as the scent of chicken wings wafted over 200 cheering Liberal partisans. “We’ve seen some folks out there who still need to learn. So let’s teach them a lesson!”

What exactly the Prime Minister was referring to, he never said during his seven-minute speech. But it didn’t matter: The significant thing was that the most powerful politician in the country was there at all.

That Premier Kathleen Wynne would call in such a favour from Mr. Trudeau is testament to the closeness of the contest for Whitby-Oshawa: A poll last week by Mainstreet Research shows Progressive Conservative candidate Lorne Coe at 33 per cent, with Liberal Elizabeth Roy close behind at 27 per cent and the NDP’s Niki Lundquist trailing at 9 per cent.

The Liberals’ competitiveness is astounding. Not only is the riding a long-time PC fief – previously represented by former deputy leader Christine Elliott – but the by-election comes amid the provincial Liberals’ unpopular privatization of Hydro One and as three party members face criminal charges in two different scandals.

Winning the by-election would give Ms. Wynne a much-needed vote of confidence. It would also be a blow to PC Leader Patrick Brown, who is facing his first serious test since defeating Ms. Elliott for the leadership last May.

Mr. Coe, a grandfatherly Durham Region councillor, has been pounding away at the Liberals’ cuts to health care and high electricity prices in his pitch at the doors.

“Those are family issues; people are really struggling with it,” he said during a canvass Tuesday afternoon, as he worked a subdivision of stately brick homes and two-car garages amid a gentle snowfall.

The message went over well.

“[The Liberals] are cutting down right now, they’re cutting down on everything to save money,” Suzanne Schleien, who works for the school board, said while standing in the foyer of her house.

Retiree Shirley Washburn referred to Mr. Trudeau as “that twit from Ottawa” when Mr. Coe knocked on her door. “As far as I’m concerned, the Ontario Liberals have to be extremely insecure if they have to bring him in. He’s got nothing better to do with his time?” she said.

The NDP’s Ms. Lundquist, a labour and human-rights lawyer, is focusing on the privatization of Hydro One. She accuses the Liberals of ducking the issue after Ms. Roy skipped two debates in the riding, including one specifically on Hydro.

“It’s an affront to democracy, frankly, to not engage in a public discussion,” she said over coffee at a Tim Hortons on Whitby’s main drag. “When you’re going to make a decision as big as the sell-off of Hydro, you should absolutely be defending it in a public forum.”

(Ms. Roy’s campaign says the Hydro One debate was organized by people friendly to the NDP, and that she had to miss another debate because of work commitments as a local councillor.)

The Liberals have tried to turn the tables on the opposition over Hydro One and high hydro prices with a radio ad that accuses the PCs and NDP of planning to bring back coal-fired power plants. Both parties resolutely oppose coal power. “When anyone promises you cheaper electricity, they’re really promising to burn coal again,” Ms. Wynne says in the 30-second spot.

Ms. Roy underscored the importance of a Liberal win as she introduced Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday: “You know, this would be the first time in nearly 30 years that we have a real shot to send a Liberal MPP to Queen’s Park.”

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