Trudeau chal­lenges Harper’s pol­i­tics of fear

Toronto Star - - ELECTION 2015 - Tim Harper

As a show of brute par­ti­san force, it was im­pres­sive.

Justin Trudeau took to cen­tre ice Sun­day at Brampton’s Pow­er­ade Cen­tre, home of the Brampton Beast, and chal­lenged Cana­dian vot­ers to re­ject Stephen Harper’s era of di­vi­sive­ness and fear and close the book on the Harper decade.

Or­ga­niz­ers said 7,000 Lib­er­als flocked to the hockey arena in the heart of the cru­cial 905 belt, which Trudeau has to take back if he has any hope of com­plet­ing one of Canada’s great po­lit­i­cal come­back sagas in the next two weeks.

Billing it as the big­gest po­lit­i­cal rally of a gen­er­a­tion over­sold things, but Lib­er­als were hauled in from all points of On­tario — from the Golden Horse­shoe to the north, from south­west­ern On­tario to the Que­bec bor­der, their yel­low school buses bring­ing Brampton’s High­way 410 to a stand­still an hour be­fore the event.

Any one of the three large par­ties in Canada could mo­bi­lize in this fash­ion, but the fact the Lib­er­als did it first shows a bit of the brash­ness of the Trudeau cam­paign and even if the leader’s speech broke no new ground, it did send his ground troops back home mo­bi­lized for a fi­nal push in a cam­paign that may be evolv­ing into a tight Harper-Trudeau bat­tle.

Trudeau came out of five fed­eral de­bates en­er­gized, even though early prog­nos­ti­ca­tions had forecast they would be his down­fall.

Brampton, and its rich vein of im­mi­grant vot­ers, was the turf Trudeau chose to re­ject a Stephen Harper cam­paign that has fea­tured se­cu­rity con­cerns about refugees, the strip­ping of Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ships, niqabs at cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies and snitch lines to re­port so­called “bar­baric cul­tural prac­tices.”

“Do you want Stephen Harper’s un­am­bi­tious vi­sion of a small, fear­ful coun­try?” Trudeau asked. “One where we are di­vided against one another and sus­pi­cious of the world?

“Or do you want a con­fi­dent, pos­i­tive vi­sion of Canada? One that is clear-eyed about the chal­lenges we face, but op­ti­mistic that we have all that we need to meet them head- on?” He chal­lenged vot­ers to show Harper that fear and di­vi­sion won’t work here, “not in Canada.”

As po­lit­i­cal spec­ta­cle goes, it was well chore­ographed.

Trudeau was in­tro­duced by his spouse, So­phie Gré­goire, and he walked a slow gaunt­let of red Lib­eral cam­paign signs on his way to the stage, where the two smooched and em­braced. Af­ter his speech, Gré­goire brought the cou­ple’s three chil­dren on stage and the youngest, Hadrien, waved a Trudeau sign with un­com­mon élan for a 19-month-old.

Lib­er­als are now con­fi­dent that the 905 — with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Oshawa — has mor­phed into twoway bat­tles be­tween them and Con­ser­va­tives, although New Democrats are still hope­ful of a break­through in Brampton East.

Trudeau, how­ever, faces a ma­jor chal­lenge in tak­ing back seats that were ef­fi­ciently tucked into Harper’s col­umn in 2011, a re­sult of ag­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive court­ing of new ar­rivals and hy­phen­ated Cana­di­ans and Lib­eral ne­glect of a con­stituency they once counted solidly as theirs.

The Lib­er­als must also deal with the dis­con­tent over Premier Kath­leen Wynne’s sex-ed cur­ricu­lum and en­sure Trudeau is not blamed for a pro­vin­cial de­ci­sion. The tight re­la­tion­ship be­tween the fed­eral leader and the premier makes that dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that much more dif­fi­cult.

Trudeau dis­missed a ques­tion about this Sun­day, piv­ot­ing in­stead to his vow to work closely with all pre­miers, un­like Harper, if elected.

Trudeau also re­leased a se­ries of new ads Sun­day and in only one of them, a ra­dio spot in Toronto, does he men­tion NDP Leader Tom Mul­cair. All of them, to vary­ing de­grees, take the high road.

This will be a con­scious strat­egy in the fi­nal two weeks, dur­ing which the Lib­eral leader wants to re­fo­cus on the change ques­tion, em­pha­siz­ing that Trudeau is not only the leader to pro­vide a dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment, but a “bet­ter gov­ern­ment.”

Mul­cair be­lieves he can re­cap­ture mo­men­tum with an ag­gres­sive re­pu­di­a­tion of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade deal, par­tic­u­larly its po­ten­tial fall­out for dairy farm­ers and the auto parts sec­tor. Await­ing a fi­nal text Sun­day, Trudeau merely said Lib­er­als were pro-trade but he would wait for a deal be­fore pro­nounc­ing upon it.

Sun­day, then, was all about tone, a re­turn to the Trudeau prom­ise to fight fear with op­ti­mism and counter wedge pol­i­tics with an ap­peal to the best in Cana­di­ans. “Hav­ing failed to help Cana­di­ans where it mat­ters, what is Stephen Harper left with?” he asked Lib­er­als. “Fear. The pol­i­tics of fear and di­vi­sion.”

And he turned the fear ques­tion around, say­ing Harper wasn’t afraid of him. “He’s afraid of you,” Trudeau said. “And he should be. His worst night­mare is a con­fi­dent and hope­ful citizen who de­mands bet­ter for her coun­try.” Tim Harper is a na­tional af­fairs writer. His col­umn ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. tharper@thes­ Twit­ter:@nut­graf1


As po­lit­i­cal spec­ta­cle, Justin Trudeau’s Brampton visit was well chore­ographed and in­cluded his fam­ily.

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