Justin Trudeau directed his bid for the votes of middle-class families Thursday at Canadians needing to care for a sick loved one, promising that a Liberal government would ensure they have better access to financial support.
As prime minister, Trudeau said he would commit $190-million to expand the compassionate care benefit — a pledge he said would have no impact on the amount Canadians pay in employment insurance premiums.
"Too often folks are forced to leave their jobs and drain their personal savings to provide essential care," said Trudeau, speaking on the campaign trail in Esquimalt, B.C., on southern Vancouver Island. "That's not right."
Under the broadened Liberal program, Trudeau said benefits could be claimed by someone caring for an ailing family member over and above what they're able to provide in off-work hours, as well as by parents tending to a gravely ill child unable to attend school for an extended period of time.
The reform would also allow the six-month benefit to be claimed in increments over the course of a year.
"It's an investment in our middle class but, more to the point, it's simply the right thing to do," Trudeau said. "Caring for each other is an essential part of what makes us Canadian."
Government documents disclosed under Freedom of Information laws reveal that different stakeholder groups — including the Canadian Cancer Society and the ALS Society — lobbied the Conservatives for changes similar to those being promised by the Liberals, including broadening eligibility requirements beyond only those in need of end-of-life care.
In its response section, the document said claimants could be eligible for a second period of compassionate care benefits if a loved one's illness subsided before returning later.
Shortly after beginning his address about the importance of caring for loved ones, Trudeau offered some family affection himself, kissing his two aunts who were both on hand in Esquimalt for their nephew's announcement.
The Liberal party traditionally hasn't performed well on Vancouver Island, though Trudeau appeared to be looking to gain traction in the southern region, where there's been a historical spattering of support.
The Grits' most recent Island MP — medical doctor and longtime politician Keith Martin — chose not to run again in 2011, saying he was fed up with the hyperpartisan culture that had emerged in Ottawa.
Following Martin's departure the Liberals were soundly trounced in the riding, coming in a distant third in a neck-and-neck race between the Tories and the NDP.
This time around party strategists have said they don't see a winnable seat, in part because of the Green vote.
Trudeau later brushed off a question on whether he was concerned about reports of surging NDP support in Quebec, long a bastion for the Liberal party prior to the so-called "Orange Crush" of 2011.
"I am very happy with the strong team that we're building in Quebec and across the country," said Trudeau, responding in French.
"We still have two months to work hard to connect with people, to underline that Canadians need to vote for a better option, not just against a government they don't like."