Justin Trudeau is criticizing Prime Minster Stephen Harper for leaving town and refusing to face Canadians over the Senate spending scandal, arguing it's a problem that has now gone beyond the red chamber and straight into his office.
The Liberal leader accused Mr. Harper of making Canadians even more cynical about politics as his result of the handling of the Senate affair.
"People are really disappointed with the style of politics that has gone on," Mr. Trudeau told reporters at a scrum in a downtown Halifax shopping mall Friday. He listed off a number of ethical lapses he says the Prime Minister has made in dealing with the situation, including taking a week to apologize to Canadians, and "running out of town rather than face down Canadians."
"It really demonstrates the extent to which this government is tone deaf," he said.
Mr. Harper has been in South America this week – a trip that was planned before the scandal erupted. Still, the Tories have been struggling this week to contain the damage from the spending scandal that has resulted in the resignation from the Tory caucus of Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin. In addition, Mr. Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned from his position on the weekend, days after it was revealed he gave a $90,000 cheque to Senator Duffy to reimburse taxpayers for a housing allowance he should not have claimed.
The Prime Minister at first vigorously defended Mr. Wright but has since changed his tune, saying that he should have accepted his resignation earlier.
As the Tories attempt to deal with this scandal, the third-place Liberals under Mr. Trudeau are riding high. A recent Forum poll shows 44 per cent of Canadians would vote for the Liberals in the next election compared with 27 per cent for the Conservatives and 20 per cent for the NDP.
Against that backdrop, Mr. Trudeau met with Haligonians Friday as part of a mini-tour of the Maritimes. He was in Fredericton Thursday, where he was mobbed at a local mall.
(Where the Harper Tories have Tim Hortons, Mr. Trudeau is embracing the urban mall food court as his political touchstone as he engages Canadians over a Subway sandwich or a Booster Juice.)
He bragged about his open and positive style of politics contrasting it with what he described as the Conservatives' style of hiding "behind closed doors and trying to spin people."
Mr. Trudeau was surrounded – mostly by women, who didn't care so much about Liberal policy as they did about having their picture taken with the new leader of the third party.
One woman said she was "star-struck." Another commented positively on his hair and one other on how young he looked.
Jackie Norrie, a long-time Liberal supporter, even came with a picture of Mr. Trudeau that she had signed. "My heart has been pounding all morning," she said about anticipating his visit. "He carries the Trudeau-mania."
Liberals have developed a fairly seamless system for these events. As Mr. Trudeau meets with people, his handlers collect e-mail addresses and phone numbers of prospective new Liberals. It's a way of reaching out to potential new voters. On this day, the e-mail addresses were piling up.
And the Tories are keenly aware of Mr. Trudeau's presence and impact in the region. Natural Resources Joe Oliver took a shot at Mr. Trudeau Friday for trying to play both sides of the fence. He was critical of Mr. Trudeau, who said in an interview Thursday in Fredericton that the proposal for a west to east pipeline was "interesting" but environmental concerns needed to be considered before it went ahead.
"We are waiting to look at how they are going to deal with both the community, local, aboriginal concerns and the environmental concerns," Mr. Trudeau told the CBC morning radio show in Fredericton. "The [substance] that they put to make that thick crude, thick bitumen run through those pipes can be very toxic. I want to see the plan for being environmentally responsible on it because it won't go ahead if it will cost us on pollution, in degradation and in inefficiencies in the coming years."
Mr. Trudeau countered Friday that the fact the Conservative government is "busy trying to contradict the leader of the third party in the House as far as we are from an election, really indicates that they see the way we do that Canadians are hungry for something better and something more."
He repeated he is "very interested" in the pipeline and did not back away from his concerns that the environmental aspect be properly addressed: "as we've seen with the Conservative approach towards Northern Gateway or to Keystone, if you don't focus on getting social licence, if you don't focus on getting the environmental concerns right, citizens won't let those pipelines happen."