Trudeau delivers stump speech to supporters in Edmonton –

Trudeau delivers stump speech to supporters in Edmonton -
Liberals are the only ones trying to reopen abortion debate, Andrew Scheer says
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau touched down in Edmonton Thursday for a rally and stump-style speech to supporters.

Although the party's campaign plane was damaged Wednesday night after a collision with a media bus on the tarmac in Victoria, B.C., Trudeau's team was able to fly to Edmonton with a new Air Transat plane.

Hundreds of party supporters turned up for the campaign event, although they were greeted by a handful protestors outside the venue voicing their support for the oil and gas industry.

They asked questions, in both official languages, about the ongoing SNC Lavalin affair and a new Globe and Mail report saying the RCMP's probe of possible obstruction of justice is being stymied because the federal government won't waive cabinet confidentially for all witnesses. He was asked if he would acknowledge having made mistakes in his handling of a sequence of events that led to the resignation of two prominent female cabinet ministers.

Thursday's visit was in the riding of Edmonton Strathcona, where NDP incumbent Linda Duncan, is not seeking re-election.

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.

Boldly looking backward: How Day 1 of the 2019 campaign was all about the past

The rally opened with a short introduction from local candidate Eleanor Olszewski and ended with Liberal candidates on stage, including two MPs seeking re-election: Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Boissonnault.

Trudeau opened his speech by asking "Are there any Liberals in Edmonton?" to loud cheers from supporters.

There is actually a stark contrast between the messages being put out by the two parties — which, according to the CBC Poll Tracker, are virtually deadlocked among decided voters. The Liberals insist that their policies contributed not just to economic growth but to real, tangible improvements in quality of life for middle-class Canadians.

Thursday's speech in the Westbury Theatre emphasized the Liberal Party's social programs like the Canada Child Benefit while taking shots at the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper.

Small wonder that Scheer kicked off the Conservative campaign in Quebec with his own focus on the past. He accused Trudeau of lying about his own role in the SNC-Lavalin affair, of trying to cover up his efforts to get prosecutors to offer the engineering and construction firm a deal to avoid a criminal trial.

"Our team rejected Conservative cuts and austerity and chose instead to invest in the middle class and people working hard to join it," Trudeau said.

"These are things that are making a real difference in people's lives," Trudeau told reporters outside Rideau Hall this morning. "So we've all got a choice to make: keep moving forward and build on the progress we've made, or go back to the politics of the Harper years."

Trudeau did not mention Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer by name but did draw comparisons between the current Conservative leader and Harper. 

Trudeau also highlighted investments in Canada's energy sector, specifically mentioning the government's purchase of the Trans Mountain Expansion project. 

The Liberal leader's Edmonton visit came the same night as the first federal party leaders debate, which Trudeau did not participate in. Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May all took part in the debate, which was hosted by Citytv and Maclean's.

All three took the opportunity to condemn Trudeau's decision to skip the debate, accusing him of not having the courage to defend his record. 

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"[Trudeau's] record is pretty abysmal, but that doesn't mean that he should give up on the debate," Singh told reporters. 

Climate change is emerging as a defining issue in this campaign. Trudeau, Singh and Green Leader Elizabeth May are all battling for voters who tell pollsters that they are prepared to make their choices based on environmental concerns.

Earlier in the day, during a campaign stop in Victoria, Trudeau announced a pledge to expand the First Time Home Buyer Incentive program. 

For Trudeau, the past makes a better launching point for an election than the present. Reporters covering the campaign kickoff outside the Governor General's residence today were, of course, far more interested in recent events.

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That shared focus left it to other party leaders to talk about the future. Neither the New Democrats nor the Greens have past records in government to defend. Both are offering a visions of a greener, more progressive future.

Workers listen to a contract announcement at Davie shipyard on July 16, 2019, in Levis Que (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)

"We can do better," Singh told supporters, pointing to the NDP's commitment to introduce universal pharmacare, build 500,000 more affordable housing units and create 300,000 jobs in the clean tech sector.

If it was only about hard economic numbers, Justin Trudeaus Liberals might not have all that much to worry about in their bid for another four years in office. The most recent economic releases from Statistics Canada on jobs and GDP growth both delivered pleasant surprises to the upside, for which Team Trudeau wasted no time in taking credit. And with Canadians once again telling pollsters that the economy is at the top of their list of priorities, the Liberal’s message—that their strategy of deficit-driven intervention in the economy is working—might carry the day for them.

The problem for Trudeau is that a lot of Canadians don’t feel the economy has gotten better, or at least not for them.

First, the numbers. Last month StatsCan reported that the Canadian economy expanded 0.9 per cent in the second quarter. When measured on an annualized basis, assuming three more quarters of 0.9 per cent growth, Canada’s GDP grew 3.7 per cent, the fastest pace since 2017 and more than the two per cent growth seen in the United States during the same period.

Then on Sept. 6 StatsCan released employment figures for the month of August, showing the economy created 81,000 net new jobs as the unemployment rate held steady at 5.7 per cent, nearly a 40-year low, and wages rose 3.7 per cent.

Cue the crowing. “Todays economic statistics confirm Canadas strong record of growth under our government,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau gushed after the GDP release. “Over one million new jobs since November 2015,” Trudeau tweeted after the jobs report.

And yet a disconnect exists between the statistics and Canadians’ perceptions about the economy.

For one thing a lot of those new jobs Trudeau boasts about in comparison to the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper have been part-time positions.

Then there’s the perception that that the deck is stacked against ordinary Canadians. A recent poll by Ipsos Public Affairs Canada found 67 per cent of Canadians believe the economy is “rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.”

“The economy is better today but we dont think it is good enough to withstand future challenges,” wrote Ipsos President Mike Colledge. “We feel our household and countrys economic progress over the last four years has been built on a house of (credit) cards and it is only a matter of time before the crash.”

That anxiety is on display in the topics that Canadians are searching for online. Lately Canadians have been googling the word “recession” at the fastest pace they have since the 2008 recession, and on par with their searches for the word just ahead of the 2015 election. The latest jobs and GDP reports seem to have assuaged some fears, but nervousness about the next downturn remains high.

All of the parties are keenly aware that Canadians feel like they’re stuck in a quagmire of debt and limited options, hence the common theme among campaign slogans imploring voters to “choose forward” (the Liberals), to move “forward together” (Green Party) and to “get ahead” (the Conservatives).

In the coming weeks the opposition parties will focus their attacks on Trudeau, arguing that he’s had his chance to help Canadians over the past four years and failed. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has latched onto the SNC-Lavalin controversy to blast Trudeau for siding with his “rich friends and corporations over Canadians” and failing to be sufficiently progressive in his approach to affordable housing, protecting consumers and the environment. Green Party leader Elizabeth May has largely framed her criticism around what she says is the Liberals’ failure to transform Canada into a green economy.

Meanwhile Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has launched a multi-pronged attack on Trudeau’s economic record, accusing the Liberals of making life more expensive for Canadians with carbon pricing, limiting Canada’s economic potential by failing to get pipelines built and reminding voters at every turn that Trudeau broke his 2015 pledge to run “modest” deficits for three years and instead set Canada on a path of double-digit billion dollar deficits for years to come.

As for Trudeau, on the day he called the election he repeatedly deflected questions about SNC-Lavalin by turning attention back to jobs. “We made a commitment of Canadians to grow the economy for the middle class and those working hard to join it and we’ve delivered on that,” he said. “We’re the first to recognize there’s an awful lot more to do.”

For the rest of the campaign expect Trudeau to keep a tight focus on those hard economic numbers—and hope that the nation’s mood about the economy starts to improve.

While neither the Liberals or Conservatives have released platforms yet, here’s a look at what the parties are promising on the economy, jobs and deficits. See our election platform guide for more.

Conservatives: Scheer has promised to erase the federal deficit in five years. He has also made some pocket-book promises: to remove the GST from home heating costs and to kill the carbon tax.

NDP: Boost Export Development Canada’s mandate, enact a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour, impose a one per cent tax on wealth exceeding $20 million and lower Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio but with no specific target.

Green: Create a green worker training program to train fossil fuel workers in the renewable energy industries.