Justin Trudeau, Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh all spent Friday on the Prairies, with the Liberals looking to find a toehold in the region, the Conservatives attempting to shore up their base and the NDP focusing on Indigenous issues.
Throughout the first week, the federal election campaign has bounced from issue to issue, covering mandatory vaccinations, the crisis in Afghanistan, abortion and other social issues, and plans for an economic recovery.
Party leaders are using social media to reach supporters and crisscrossing the country to attend largely subdued and smaller events in person during the pandemic.
At a campaign stop in Winnipeg on Friday, Mr. Trudeau once again defended his decision to call an early election.
“This is a moment, as we approach the end of this pandemic, where Canadians should have their say,” the Liberal Leader said.
Mr. Trudeau promised to bring in 10 paid sick days for federal workers, as well as a new tax credit for small businesses to buy or upgrade ventilation equipment and $100-million for provinces to help with ventilation in schools, as well as $10-million for on-reserve schools.
“As a government, and as this country’s largest employer, it’s up to us to set the example,” Mr. Trudeau said at the announcement, which was held in a grocery store.
Mr. Singh’s Friday schedule included a stop at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, one of the communities that has discovered unmarked graves connected to residential schools.
“We can’t look away from this trauma,” the NDP Leader said. “We have to demand justice.”
During his comments to reporters, Mr. Singh was also sharply critical of Mr. Trudeau’s Friday campaign announcement to increase paid sick days. He said the government should have approved that policy at the onset of the pandemic, as the NDP had called for.
“Why didn’t Justin Trudeau do this 18 months ago? We could have saved lives,” Mr. Singh said. “It is cynical politics at its worst and it’s frankly disgusting that he did not do this early and waited to an election to now announce it.”
Mr. Trudeau has focused his campaign so far almost entirely as a contrast with Mr. O’Toole’s Conservatives, portraying the differences as “stark” and criticizing the Conservative Leader for his position on mandatory vaccinations and social issues.
In return, Mr. O’Toole has called the Liberal Leader “divisive,” and responded on numerous occasions that he believes in women’s right to choose.
While the Liberals have announced that vaccinations will be mandatory in the public service and on trains and planes this fall, and for candidates, the Conservatives said rapid tests and negative test results can be used in their place.
On social issues, Mr. O’Toole said Friday that he believes doctors must refer patients seeking services such as abortion and medical assistance in dying even if they object to the procedures themselves, a reversal from his position in the Conservative leadership race, which said doctors didn’t need to refer.
“I will always stand up for the rights of all Canadians, and that includes women, that includes the LGBTQ community. And that’s my track record,” Mr. O’Toole said.
Also in Winnipeg Friday, speaking at a trucking company, Mr. O’Toole once again touted his party’s economic-recovery plan.
Mr. O’Toole highlighted plans for a Conservative government to pay up to 50 per cent of the salary of net new hires for six months after the end of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. The subsidy would be at least 25 per cent and increase based on how long a new employee has been out of work, reaching 50 per cent for those unemployed for ten months or more.
The Tory plan has been out for days as part of the party’s platform though there is no disclosed cost figure for the commitment. The Conservatives are awaiting a costing by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Mr. O’Toole was in an industrial park in Winnipeg Centre, a riding held by the NDP, which won it over the Liberals in 2019. He was later scheduled to attend a rally in Saskatoon, and will be in Edmonton and Delta, B.C., on Saturday.
So far, Mr. Trudeau’s election tour has largely been targeting seats the party doesn’t currently hold. In Calgary, Winnipeg and Regina, Mr. Trudeau stopped in ridings where the party believes it has a chance of picking up seats, after largely being shut out in the past election. In all three cases, Mr. Trudeau’s tour took him to ridings that the Liberals won in 2015, but lost in 2019.
In Calgary Skyview, Mr. Trudeau held his first pandemic-style rally alongside candidate George Chahal, a city councillor who’s hoping to leapfrog to the federal level on Sept. 20. In his stump speech, Mr. Trudeau took aim at Mr. O’Toole over child-care funding but spent much more time targeting Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s management of the pandemic and record on climate policies.
“Your provincial government made wrong decision after wrong decision,” Mr. Trudeau said.
In addition to the Calgary Skyview riding, the Liberals have also set their hopes on Calgary Centre, Edmonton Centre (where former Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault is running again), and Edmonton Mill Woods.
Janet Brown, an independent pollster and political commentator based in Calgary, said it is possible that the Liberals could break through in about five ridings in Alberta – including Skyview.
“[The province] is still the Conservative heartland, the Conservatives are still going to win handily but the margin of victory won’t be quite so great,” she said. “That’s why we do feel a few seats are in play.”
In Saskatchewan, the Liberals are hoping to claw back the Regina-Wascana seat previously held by long-time Liberal Ralph Goodale, who lost in 2019 after representing the area for decades.
With a report from Bill Curry in Ottawa
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