The federal Liberals officially launched their bid for another mandate today — a campaign that will tout the Trudeau government’s accomplishments over the last four years and fend off criticism over broken promises, ethical breaches and leadership.
Expect Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to repeatedly cite his government’s successes on the campaign trail: thousands of new jobs, improved Indigenous relations, hundreds of thousands of children lifted out of poverty.
“At the end of the day, politics is about people. Maybe you’re a recent grad or a new Canadian. Maybe you’re raising your kids or living out your golden years in retirement. Whoever you are, you deserve a real plan for the future,” Trudeau said during a news conference at Rideau Hall Wednesday after officially kicking off the campaign.
“That’s the choice. It’s that clear. And it’s that important. I’m for moving forward for everyone.”
As the incumbent governing leader, Trudeau is the prime target for attacks from all directions. He will be forced to defend a record that includes running big deficits, failing to bring in promised electoral reform and being slapped down for breaking ethics rules – twice.
“The challenges for him are to talk about the issues he wants to talk about, to deal with the tough ones like the carbon tax, then to get gains from the big ones like the Child Benefit,” said Peter Loewen, political science professor at the University of Toronto.
Liberals are expected to frame their accomplishments as part of a work in progress, asking voters for four more years to cross the finish line on key initiatives while adding new policy promises in the party platform.
“It’s a tall order, but Canadians are quite practical,” said Liberal strategist Susan Smith.
“You can’t change things overnight. I think the wheels are set in motion. Where the job numbers are going, where the economy is going, where the trade deals are going, where we’re going on the environment, is moving forward.”
The Liberals want to frame the choice between Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as a stark one with serious consequences — praising their own spending choices, for example, while accusing Conservatives of planning budget cuts and fiscal austerity.
Trudeau will work to tie Scheer to Ontario’s unpopular Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford — part of the Liberal strategy of linking Scheer in voters’ minds with spending cuts that would harm vulnerable Canadians.
“Conservatives like to say they’re for the people, but then they cut taxes for the wealthy and cut services for everybody else,” Trudeau said Wednesday.
In 2015, Trudeau campaigned as a positive, fresh, energetic alternative to Stephen Harper, who had been in office for 10 years.
Trudeau brand tarnished?
Has Trudeau’s brand has been tarnished by the SNC-Lavalin scandal and four years in government? Loewen said Trudeau’s signature charisma has come off at times as unserious, unprepared — even callow.
Trudeau can expect some tough blows from opponents over the blistering report from Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion on the prime minister’s ethical lapses in the SNC-Lavalin affair. But Loewen sees it as a much bigger issue for reporters and political insiders than for average voters.
“I think it’s going to dog him at the level of questions. The issue is how much it will actually stick to him during the campaign,” he said.
“It will unquestionably make the campaign difficult because it will be talked about a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that voters have drawn conclusions about Mr. Trudeau.”
Late Tuesday, just hours before Trudeau was set to arrive at Rideau Hall and officially kick off the election, The Globe and Mail reported that the RCMP’s probe of potential obstruction of justice in the SNC-Lavalin affair has been hampered because the federal government won’t lift cabinet confidentiality for all witnesses.
The article also included an interview with former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, who suggested cabinet confidence is exerted too liberally.
“In my experience, particularly, cabinet privilege is overasserted and I guess more widely applied than it deserved,” he told The Globe.
In a speech to candidates in Ottawa in late July, Trudeau delivered talking points for the campaign trail, telling potential MPs to stress how Liberal policies have had a “measurable impact” for Canadians.
“During our mandate, Canadians have created over a million new jobs. We’ve negotiated three of the largest trade deals in the world, lifted over 300,000 kids out of poverty and cut taxes for nine million Canadians,” he said at the time.
“We protect our oceans and our parks. We ban harmful plastics for single use. We are phasing out coal-fired power plants and we’re putting a price on pollution.”
Counter-attack on Conservatives
Trudeau also offered the candidates Liberal lines for counter-attacks on the Conservatives — that they have no plan for the environment or the economy, that they would help the wealthiest few at the expense of those who need help most.
In 2015, the Liberals jumped from third party status to a 184-seat majority. This election they hope to capitalize on the plummeting fortunes of the NDP; they’re eyeing seats in Quebec to compensate for expected losses in Atlantic Canada. They’re also expected to fight hard to hold their seats in downtown and suburban Toronto and in British Columbia.
Penny Collenette, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who worked in Jean Chrétien’s PMO, said an incumbent prime minister usually runs a more cautious campaign, taking into account the need to tend to government business and respond to any global issues that arise.
While she agreed Trudeau will be held to account for his record and his broken promises, Collenette said she believes the electorate will be more interested in knowing his plans for the future.
“On the whole, they’ve been pretty good about keeping their promises,” she said. “But the question for this election is, ‘So, what’s the next round? If you’re arguing give me another four years, what is your vision for the next four years?'”