Trudeau spoke with reporters Wednesday after meeting with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette at Rideau Hall to ask for the dissolution of Parliament and the start of the official campaign.
The Liberal leader touted what he sees as his government’s key accomplishments, including cutting the middle class tax rate, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement at a time of U.S. “protectionism and unpredictability,” and working to protect the environment.
“We stopped sending child benefit cheques to millionaires, so we could send more to the single parent working two jobs, and to the family of five that falls a bit short at the end of each month,” he said.
‘We’ve all got a choice to make’
Trudeau’s remarks clearly targeted Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.
“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,” he said, taking a dig at his predecessor Stephen Harper.
“Conservatives like to say they’re for the people, but then they cut taxes for the wealthy and cut services for everybody else.”
The Liberal leader, who was swept into power in 2015 on a wave of change, must now defend his record, not just from traditional rivals such as the Conservatives, New Democrats, and Bloc Quebecois, but an emboldened Green Party and the populist People’s Party.
Watch: Trudeau rallies supporters in Tory MP Pierre Poilievre’s Ottawa riding.
And while young voters were in large part responsible for a Liberal majority four years ago, it remains to be seen how millennials — the largest voting bloc in this election — will be swayed.
Though Trudeau’s government put a price on carbon pollution, it also purchased the contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite the Liberal leader delivering on some big-ticket items, including legalizing marijuana and a new child care benefit, he abandoned promises of electoral reform and a return to balanced budgets by 2019.
HuffPost Canada’s Zi-Ann Lum asked the Liberal leader how he plans to regain the trust of young people who may be disappointed in him and now see him like every other politician, despite his promises to be different.
“Canadians of all ages, particularly millennials, have seen the transformation over the past four years as we’ve created both economic growth and lifted people out of poverty, as we move forward on the most ambitious leadership ever seen by a Canadian government on protecting the environment, at the same time we continue to prepare for future prosperity of families right across the country,” he said.
“These are the things young Canadians expect of me and all Canadians expect of me.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, perhaps best known as a former House Speaker, goes into the campaign with a full war chest and polls suggesting his party is neck-and-neck with the Grits.
Scheer has been buoyed by the fallout of the SNC-Lavalin affair, an issue on which he called for Trudeau to resign. In August, the federal ethics commissioner found that Trudeau violated ethics rules by improperly pressuring his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to halt the criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin. Trudeau also breached ethics rules with a family vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island.
In the lead-up to the campaign, the Liberals have shone a light on Scheer’s socially conservative voting record on abortion and gay marriage to paint him as out of step with mainstream Canadians. They have also shredded the Tory leader’s climate plan and have doggedly tied Scheer to unpopular Ontario Premier Doug Ford, warning a federal Tory government will mean cuts to public services.
On Wednesday, The Globe and Mail reported that the RCMP is examining possible obstruction of justice in the SNC-Lavalin affair, but the federal government has not lifted cabinet confidentiality for all who might be involved in the matter. A Justice department spokesperson told The Globe the decision was made by the Clerk of the Privy Council. Liberals also told the newspaper the Prime Minister’s Office was not involved in the call.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa before his official launch, Scheer called on Trudeau to “do the right thing and immediately waive full privilege” so all witnesses can testify to the RCMP.
Scheer: ‘You just cannot trust Justin Trudeau’
The Tory leader reaffirmed his position Trudeau has lost the moral authority to govern and said he doesn’t believe the prime minister was not involved in the decision not to waive cabinet confidentiality.
“You just cannot trust Justin Trudeau. He will say anything to cover up his scandals, and he’ll say anything to get re-elected,” Scheer said. “Canadians cannot believe the things that he says.”
Asked what his government is “trying to hide” by refusing to waive cabinet confidences, Trudeau claimed he “gave out the largest and most expansive waiver of cabinet confidence in Canada’s history” when the matter was before the House justice committee.
At his official campaign launch Wednesday afternoon in Trois-Rivières, Que., Scheer said the question for voters is clear: “Who can you trust to help you and your family to get ahead?”
Scheer alleged that Trudeau will raise taxes and “take more money” from the pockets of Canadians because “he doesn’t know what it’s like to raise a family facing difficult conditions.” He also accused the Liberal leader of embarrassing Canada on the world stage.
Scheer said Conservatives will make life more affordable for Canadians with a variety of measures, including removing the federal sales tax on home-heating bills.
“I have a simple message for Justin Trudeau: starting today, recess is over,” he said in French.
The NDP, which entered the 2015 campaign as slight front-runners, faces an uphill climb this time around. Jagmeet Singh, who pitched himself as the “growth candidate” to replace Tom Mulcair, has struggled to find some momentum and money. The party’s financial situation is so dire it won’t have a branded plane for the campaign.
“I’m confident people will see in us champions who want to put them in the centre of everything we do,” Singh said in London, Ont. when asked about his party’s fortunes.
The NDP leader said Trudeau isn’t “who he promised to be,” though he charmed Canadians with “pretty words and empty promises” four years ago. Scheer’s Conservatives aren’t the answer, he said, warning of cuts to services under a Tory government.
Singh has already ruled out propping up the Tories in a minority government situation because of Scheer’s earlier views on gay marriage. While celebrated as a principled stand by some, others interpreted the words as a concession the NDP aren’t playing to win.
Singh’s “New Deal For People” platform promises a clear tack left, calling for more ambitious climate goals, higher taxes on the wealthy, universal pharmacare, and the electoral reform Canadians were promised last time around.
Singh: Trudeau had ‘pretty words and empty promises’
The NDP leader repeatedly called for Canadians to have the “courage” to take on pharmaceutical industry and to do what is necessary to solve the climate crisis. He also touched on what it means to be chasing the job of prime minister as the first person of colour to lead a major federal party.
“When I was a kid, I never imagined that someone that looked like me could be running to be prime minister. People told me, time and time again, the things that I couldn’t do,” he said.
“Now, kids come up and say ‘seeing you do this, I feel like I can do anything.’ And that’s inspiration.”
In recent months, Singh’s party has kept a close eye on Elizabeth May’s Greens, who have been rising to double digits in some polls. The Greens also scooped up a former NDP seat in federal byelection in B.C. last May.
Green provincial cousins have likewise made splashes across the country, particularly in B.C., where Green MLAs hold the balance of power, and P.E.I,, where Greens vaulted to Official Opposition status in last spring’s election.
In what could be her last campaign as leader, May is hoping to win enough seats to play a meaningful role in the next Parliament. But the spectre of voters abandoning her in the final stretch, perhaps to stop Scheer from dismantling the federal carbon pricing regime, remains a threat to her ambitions.
May kicked off her campaign with an early-morning speech to supporters in Victoria, calling the upcoming vote the most important in Canada’s history.
“This election is about telling the truth to Canadians about how serious the climate emergency really is,” she said.
May said that a Green government would move Canada to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, introduce universal child care and pharmacare, eliminate tuition for post-secondary schools, and, in time, offer a guaranteed livable income.
Asked about reports that some of her candidates hold anti-abortion and separatist views, May denied it. May asked the candidates that joined her on stage to put their hands on their hearts and pledge not to “retreat” on a woman’s right to an abortion, not to “play games” with Quebec separation, or flirt with white supremacists.
‘First and foremost, we are Earthlings’
“No other party leaders will say this, are you ready? First and foremost we are Earthlings,” she said. “We are British Columbians in this room. We are strong British Columbians. But we believe that Canada is a family.”
And then, there’s Max.
Maxime Bernier, who narrowly lost the Tory leadership in 2017, quit on Conservatives last summer to start his own party. The People’s Party promises to dismantle Canada’s supply management regime for dairy and poultry, and to dramatically cut immigration and refugee levels.
Though Bernier has said racists and xenophobes aren’t welcome in his party, organizers were encouraged last spring to court votes from a far-right group. Bernier has also faced questions about appearing in photos with far-right figures, including white supremacist Paul Fromm.
Bernier also has a penchant for chasing headlines with incendiary tweets, including last week’s trolling of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who he called “mentally unstable.” Though unlikely to make it into leaders’ debates, Bernier is expected to continue to court attention.
Bernier will launch his campaign Thursday in his riding of Beauce, but spoke to media alongside Toronto candidate Renata Ford, the widow of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
“We need to have a real discussion on immigration. We need to have a real discussion, also, on balancing the budget. We’re the only party who is ready to balance the budget in two years,” he said, adding that cutting foreign aid would be part of that goal.
In Quebec, new Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, a former Parti Quebecois environment minister, is trying to build on the 10 seats the party currently holds. Polls suggest the party is sitting in third place in the province, ahead of the Greens and NDP.
Blanchet launched his campaign in Quebec City by saying he had full confidence his party will win back seats lost to the NDP in 2011. The leader of the sovereignist party touted Quebec’s opportunity to build a robust economy based on clean energy.
Blanchet called it Quebec’s “duty” to transition away from fossil fuels. “And in order to achieve that, we cannot remain in a country in which the most important resource being exported is still oil,” he said.
“This is going against the interests of Quebec. This is going against the interest of Canada. And this is going against the interest of the whole world.”
By law, Trudeau needed to ask for an election by this Sunday at the latest to ensure a minimum campaign period of 36 days. Canadians will cast their ballots on Oct. 21.
The first leaders’ debate — hosted by Maclean’s and Citytv — kicks off Thursday in Toronto. Liberals have already announced Trudeau will not be in attendance.
With files from Zi-Ann Lum, Emma Paling