OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is portraying Ontario Premier Doug Ford and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as irresponsibly fuelling anger and division in the country in order to score political gains.
In remarks Trudeau prepared to deliver to the Ontario wing of the federal Liberal party in Mississauga Friday night, Trudeau made only passing reference to the divisions within his own party over the SNC-Lavalin file, which has cost him two cabinet ministers and caucus members, and the departures of his top policy adviser and top civil servant.
Instead, he took direct aim at Ford and Scheer lumping them together repeatedly, likening them to Stephen Harper, in a speech aimed at firing up his troops for the campaign ahead.
Trudeau’s speech, a draft copy of which was released in advance, began with a focus on the economy and on climate change as a “massive economic threat to middle-class Canadians” before moving to condemn the two Conservative leaders as divisive figures.
“Conservative politicians like Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer don’t seem to believe in investing for the future. They only think as far as the next election, not the next generation,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister highlighted an alarming report from federal government scientists that warned human-caused climate change is causing Canada to warm faster than the world average.
Trudeau claimed that “scientists, business owners, and economists agree — pricing pollution is the best way to reduce emissions and fight climate change” while he portrayed Ford and Scheer as acting irresponsibly in the face of the global climate change threat.
Ford “fired Ontario’s chief scientist — just like Stephen Harper muzzled climate scientists,” said Trudeau. He criticized Ford for scrapping the mandatory vehicle emissions test, getting rid of the province’s cap-and-trade program, and for challenging the federal carbon levy-and-rebate program in court.
Trudeau took aim at Ford’s first budget, saying it was “loaded with cuts” for farmers, Franco-Ontarians, seniors, post-secondary students, Indigenous peoples, children, “and those who rely on community social services.”
He said Scheer “takes his cues from the Ontario premier, so Canadians can expect much of the same if he ever gets elected,” claiming the Conservative leader would cut the Canada Child Benefit which the Liberals introduced, and make other cuts to housing, old-age security and the Canada pension plan.
Trudeau said Scheer’s pledge to eliminate the federal carbon tax shows “he wants to take us back to Stephen Harper’s decade of inaction.”
The prime minister reserved his most critical comments for what he said was Ford and Scheer’s decision to take “the easy road, to divide people and spread heat rather than find real solutions.”
“Andrew Scheer conveniently failed to call out alt-right conspiracy theories. Andrew Scheer fought against a non-binding motion to denounce Islamophobia. And Andrew Scheer has proudly spoken at the same rallies as white nationalists,” said Trudeau.
“Is that leadership? Is that someone who will govern for all Canadians? I don’t think so,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau said it is “our responsibility to condemn this kind of speech but also to try to understand why their message resonates.”
He said Liberals in 2015 saw how hope is a powerful political motivator, but must understand that “anger is powerful, too.”
“And that anger is what Conservative parties around the world are tapping into…they’ve been somewhat successful in turning anger into political support.”
However, in move similar to his 2015 election campaign rhetoric, Trudeau also cautioned Liberal troops against confusing the “Conservative party with conservative voters. The party exploits peoples’ fears. The voters just want to be heard.”
Scheer, along with several of his Conservative MPs, including Michelle Rempel, have frequently criticized Trudeau for unfairly labelling his critics.
Trudeau told supporters Friday it would be a “terrible mistake to assume that people who vote Conservative hate the environment, or are racist, or misogynist. That type of generalization is both harmful and wrong,” saying people who vote Conservative “are our friends and neighbours.”
“Their concerns are pretty universal. They worry about the same things we all do. That’s the difference between Conservatives and Liberals. They play the blame game. We get to work,” he said.
In his only reference to his own past two months of controversy, Trudeau said it’s important for Liberals to “stay focused” and not be distracted by internal disputes.
“Let’s learn from our mistakes. Liberals fighting Liberals only helps Andrew Scheer. We have to remember what this party stands for,” Trudeau said. He signalled his party will frame next fall’s vote, in much the same terms as he framed the last: “The next election is about what kind of country we want to live in, and who we want to be.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc