Montreal Gazette

Trudeau drops the sunny ways

LIBERAL LEADER SWAPS HOPE FOR FEAR AS HE TAKES AIM AT O'TOOLE'S CLIMATE STANCE, GUN CONTROL FLIP-FLOP

- JOHN IVISON

What does Justin Trudeau do for an encore? Much of his media availabili­ty in Welland, Ont., on Monday was devoted to belittling Erin O'toole.

It is a sign of how rattled the Liberals are that Trudeau invoked the trifecta of progressiv­e hobgoblins — anti-vaxxers, anti-choicers and climate deniers, all of whom, Trudeau claims, are pulling O'toole's strings.

“He can't even convince his party that climate change is real,” Trudeau said, conjuring up the vote at the Conservati­ve policy convention in March, where delegates rejected the statement that “climate change is real” and the party is “willing to act.”

“Canadians are beginning to see that the future being offered by Erin O'toole is a future of wishywashy weak leadership — he doesn't stand up for what he actually believes in,” Trudeau said, in reference to the Conservati­ve leader's flip-flop on the platform commitment to overturn the Liberal ban on semi-automatic weapons, pending a classifica­tion review.

“He's trying to say whatever he can to Canadians to get elected,” the Liberal leader said.

The problem with political attacks is that they are ineffectiv­e when they come from someone who is less esteemed than the target.

I WANT TO MAKE MY POSITION ON FIREARMS PERFECTLY CLEAR. THE PRESENT BAN ON A NUMBER OF ... FIREARMS THAT WERE RECLASSIFI­ED IN 2020 WILL REMAIN IN PLACE. — ERIN O'TOOLE

Canadians are just getting to know O'toole. He has proven himself pragmatic or unprincipl­ed (take your pick) on gun control. But he has been clear that he is in favour of vaccinatio­ns, a woman's right to choose and action on climate change.

It is becoming apparent that pre-campaign polls suggesting the Conservati­ve leader is unpopular were misleading — he had (and has) a recognitio­n problem, not a popularity problem.

Given the limited number of people likely to switch between the Liberals and the Conservati­ves, the real battle is over progressiv­e voters who could be persuaded to vote Liberal or NDP.

Despite Trudeau's best efforts to draw pictures of dragons and sea monsters on the uncharted map of an O'toole government, there is little in the Conservati­ve plan that will scare New Democrats into the Liberal camp.

The promise to rescind the semi-automatic weapons ban was a foolish holdover from O'toole's “true blue” leadership campaign. It was clear that it would alienate urban voters, particular­ly in Quebec, and it should never have seen the light of day.

It stalled O'toole's progress for three days but at his press conference on Monday, he was again being asked about things he wants to talk about — such as the commitment to double the Canada Workers Benefit.

O'toole said the promise is worth up to $2,800 a year to low-paid workers, or a $1 an hour raise. “It's a win for workers, families and the Canadian economy,” O'toole said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is probably wishing he'd thought of the idea first.

O'toole has been steadfast in rebuilding his party in his own image — that is, a traditiona­l Red Tory.

In doing so, he is taking a gamble that he doesn't lose voters he needs in tight races to Maxime Bernier's People's Party. The gun control aboutface has probably done wonders for PPC recruitmen­t.

But the calculatio­n appears to be that the bleeding is worth it, if new blood can be recruited from other parties or from among non-partisans.

In response, Trudeau has looked frantic and sounded shrill. The leader who propounded “sunny ways” and the hopeful narrative has been reduced to accusing his rival of saying anything to get elected.

Lest we forget, this is the Justin Trudeau who promised electoral reform, the return of peacekeepi­ng, pharmacare, clean drinking water on reserves, Access to Informatio­n in ministeria­l offices, two years of deficits before a return to balanced budgets etc., etc.

This is dangerous territory for the Liberal leader — as is the politiciza­tion of vaccinatio­n. His position on those who have not been vaccinated is hardening, as he tries to link “anti-vaxxer mobs” stalking his campaign events to O'toole.

“The vague position taken by Mr. O'toole is an issue. He will not demand that people taking a plane or a train are vaccinated. He will not demand that the federal public service be vaccinated and he doesn't even expect that his candidates be fully vaccinated — and that shows that, yes, he's trying to get votes from anti-vaxxers,” he said.

Can anyone remember a time when the prime minister of a country demonized and delegitimi­zed so many of his fellow citizens?

O'toole said on Saturday that his goal is to get 90 per cent of Canadians double-vaccinated — but by persuading the hold-outs, not compelling them.

“The big difference between Justin Trudeau and myself is that I respect people, even if we have difference­s, to make personal decisions,” he said. “It's not time to create an `us versus them' approach.”

Trudeau's success is built on authentici­ty — in successive elections, a plurality of voters has been convinced by his empathy and positivity.

This time, Trudeau is relying on Project Fear to scare progressiv­es into rallying around the Liberal flag. But this sour campaign isn't really him, and it's not clear what he has in reserve if it doesn't work.

TRUDEAU IS RELYING ON PROJECT FEAR TO SCARE PROGRESSIV­ES INTO RALLYING AROUND THE LIBERAL FLAG.

 ?? ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has upped his attacks on Conservati­ve Leader Erin O'toole as the federal election campaign has rolled on and the Liberals have become increasing­ly rattled. It is a strategy unlikely to pay off for Trudeau come election day, John Ivison writes.
ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has upped his attacks on Conservati­ve Leader Erin O'toole as the federal election campaign has rolled on and the Liberals have become increasing­ly rattled. It is a strategy unlikely to pay off for Trudeau come election day, John Ivison writes.
 ?? CARLOS OSORIO / REUTERS ??
CARLOS OSORIO / REUTERS
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