Trudeau challenges Harper’s politics of fear
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. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:@nutgraf1
As political spectacle, Justin Trudeau’s Brampton visit was well choreographed and included his family.