Skip to main content

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way up a flight of stairs as he walks to a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The federal Liberals are tying the timing of the next election to the vaccine rollout and the country entering the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The party wrapped up its virtual national convention on Saturday with a campaign-style speech from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in which he focused his attacks on the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois. The three-day gathering focused on campaign readiness and while the Prime Minister didn’t directly mention a coming election, his key organizers spent the convention framing the timing and rationale for a possible return to the polls.

Jagmeet Singh seeks to rally New Democrats as glitchy policy convention wraps up

“We’re turning our attention towards what’s next. The recovery. Canadians will be looking for us to help them and have their backs in new and different ways. And we’ll be looking to convince Canadians that we have the plan for the future that’s worthy of a new majority mandate,” Liberal Party president Suzanne Cowan said Saturday.

The Liberals have governed in a minority Parliament since 2019. The government could fall if the three main opposition parties vote against them on a matter of confidence or if the Prime Minister himself decides to pull the plug on his government. The NDP has ruled the first option out and the Liberals’ newly appointed national campaign co-chair tied timing of an election to the pandemic.

“Until we’re at a level of safety, we have to make sure that we’re just focused on people’s realities and concerns, which is making sure that we have herd immunity through vaccination,” Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly told The Globe and Mail.

“Once vaccinations are over, we’re still in a recession. People will want us to answer the question of what does the world look like after COVID,” she said. “That’s the platform we’ll be working on.”

Asked if the Liberals can go to the polls before Canada reaches herd immunity, Ms. Joly said: “If that’s the case, the Opposition will decide.”

In his Saturday speech, Mr. Trudeau decried “the partisanship that’s far too often the norm in Ottawa” while attacking the parties that he sees as his main competition and foreshadowing the arguments the Liberals would make during an election. The Prime Minister painted the Conservatives as out of touch and the Bloc Québécois as a party that will never be able to deliver on its promises. He made no direct mention of either the NDP or the Greens.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Mr. Trudeau said, is “disconnected” when it comes to climate change and emergency income supports, and he accused the Official Opposition of flirting with disinformation on public-health measures and COVID-19 vaccines.

“The problem for Erin O’Toole is that he’s not interested in real solutions to real problems,” Mr. Trudeau said. “In fact, he’s already shown that he’s willing to say different things to different people at different times if he thinks it will help him get ahead.”

About his party’s main opponents in Quebec, Mr. Trudeau said, “While the Bloc pretends to be the only party that can speak in the name of Quebeckers, we deliver the goods for Quebeckers.”

The Prime Minister delivered his remarks from a production studio in Ottawa. He was the only person in the camera shot when he delivered his speech.

The New Democrats also held a convention over the weekend. In the party statement, NDP MP Charlie Angus said the Prime Minister “needs a reality check.”

“This isn’t 2015. People have heard all the shiny promises and witnessed his refusal to follow through on fundamental commitments. We are now in the third and most brutal wave of the pandemic and the Prime Minister has abandoned the leadership field again and again.”

The convention also gave Liberals a chance to weigh in on policy that will be sent to the campaign’s platform committee for consideration. Convention delegates overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the Liberal caucus, passed by a vote of 491-85 Saturday at the governing party’s virtual convention. It will automatically become official party policy but won’t necessarily be added to the Liberal campaign platform.

In a statement, Conservative MP Ed Fast called a universal basic income “risky” and an “unknown experiment.”

The Liberals’ support of the income policy “is par for the course with Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. Instead of focusing on creating jobs, they are fixated on implementing risky, expensive, and untested economic policies,” he said.

With a report from The Canadian Press.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.