Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is being accused of misleading Canadians after he played down the federal government's controversial $15-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia – including comments where the politician dismissed the combat vehicles as merely "jeeps."
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, trying to make a political comeback in Quebec, is taking Mr. Trudeau to task over comments he made to a French-language talk show, Tout le monde en parle, that aired Sunday night on Radio-Canada. Mr. Trudeau, leading in the polls with less than a week to go before election day, has rejected the notion of cancelling the long-term deal to supply the Saudi kingdom with combat vehicles.
Critics including Amnesty International and Project Ploughshares, an anti-war group that tracks arms sales, have cited Saudi Arabia's abysmal human-rights record and raised concerns about how this transaction appears to violate Canada's export-control rules. A federal Crown corporation brokered the deal, which was struck after heavy lobbying of Riyadh by Stephen Harper's Conservative government, and Ottawa is ultimately responsible for supplying the fighting machines to the Saudis.
Mr. Duceppe criticized Mr. Trudeau for a statement in which he tried to put distance between the light-armoured vehicles deal and Ottawa. The Liberal Leader said the transaction was "not an agreement between the Government of Canada and Saudi Arabia" but was a deal between "a manufacturing company" and the Saudis.
That isn't true, the Bloc Leader noted.
"When he tells us it's a private company only, he's lying to us because it was done under the auspices of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation," Mr. Duceppe told reporters Monday in Mont-Laurier, Que.
He also took Mr. Trudeau to task for dismissing the military equipment in question as jeeps. The light-armoured vehicles made by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, in London, Ont., are marketed as equipped with automatic weapons. The LAV 6.0 model is described as having "effective firepower to defeat soft and armoured targets."
"Do you see jeeps like this on [Highway] 117?" he asked. "Have you ever seen a jeep like that?"
Major federal political parties are loath to criticize Mr. Harper's Saudi deal because the manufacturing work will employ thousands of people in the London area and beyond, and any comments about cancelling it could affect their electoral chances in the Southwestern Ontario region.
Asked about his "jeep" comment at a campaign stop in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau declined to elaborate and instead reverted to his standard talking points on the Saudi deal.
"The Liberal Party has been clear: We will not cancel the existing contracts," he said. "We will, however, behave in a way that is transparent and open going forward, to ensure that Canadians have confidence that their government is abiding by the rules, principles and values that people expect of their government."