OTTAWA—Almost nine years of Conservative rule have produced a
legacy of “cynicism” and “division” that Liberal Leader Justin
Trudeau is vowing to overturn in the coming election battle.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
and his Conservatives of
playing on the country’s religious, ethnic and geographical
differences for political advantage.
“We know that careful application of these politics, of
strategic vote-getting and wedge politics and division and
negativity can actually lead to getting a majority government.
Mr. Harper is proof of that,” Trudeau told the Star in an
Trudeau doesn’t hesitate in declaring that the economy will be
the ballot question of the federal election, scheduled for Oct.
It’s an issue that Harper has sought to make his own, boasting
that under Conservative leadership, Canada weathered the
recession and its aftermath better than most countries.
But Trudeau is less impressed with the Tory track record.
hearing from Canadians
is there is a level of anxiety about
their future, about their kids’ future, about how they are going
to care for aging parents that this government simply hasn’t
responded to,” he said.
But while the economy will be top of mind for voters, Trudeau
suggests that the style of government will also be an issue in
the coming campaign, saying the Conservative tenure has been
marked by a “negative tone, a nastiness and actually a lack of
ambition and vision of this country.”
He said the Conservatives have undermined Ottawa’s relationship
with Canadians by gagging scientists, clamping down on the
release of government information and putting its own MPs under
Trudeau says he would meet at least once a year with premiers
and territorial leaders, saying that good government “draws
Since becoming leader, Trudeau has put a focus on the middle
class, a theme certain to dominate the party’s election pitch.
He said the party is now consulting with “experts” as it hammers
out its election pledges. But unlike the New Democrats, who have
been rolling out their election promises, Trudeau said voters
will have to wait until closer to the election before they see
the Liberal plan.
He’s made clear that the Liberals oppose the Conservatives’
income-splitting pledge, calling it a costly plan that will
benefit only a few.
He declined to say whether a Liberal government would scrap the
recent commitment by the Tories to boost child benefit payments
to parents, saying only that “all options are on the table.”
But he did promise that a Liberal government would not hike
taxes, saying instead that it would find savings to pay for its
“I don’t think we need to draw in more in the way of revenue
except through growing the economy. I think Canadians,
particularly middle-class Canadians, are taxed enough,” he said.
Parliament resumes in January, kicking off
an election year that will be a key test for Trudeau and his
party and whether they can reverse the disastrous electoral
performances of 2008 and 2011 that reduced the Liberals to third
place for the first time ever.
He’s already the target of
Conservative attack ads
and the dismissive shrugs of NDP
Leader Thomas Mulcair, just a taste of what’s to come. But
Trudeau professes he is unfazed by the political jabs.
“I don’t worry too much about what my opponents think of me. All
my life people have had impressions of me, positive or negative,
based on things completely unrelated to who I actually am,” he
In the first full year after becoming leader in the spring of
2013, Trudeau moved put his stamp on the party.
Reflecting on the past 12 months, he said he was proud of the
strides Liberals have made in their election readiness, drawing
in almost 300,000 members, byelection successes — with victories
in some ridings and improved showings in others — and
But he also takes pride in democratic reforms he has brought in,
such as last year’s decision to force MPs and senators to
publish travel and hospitality expenses.
In January, he tossed 32 Liberal senators from caucus and from
future partisan duties for the party. On Friday, he boasted that
he had done more in a “single morning” to remove partisanship
from the Senate than Harper has accomplished in nine years.
But it was also a year that included
missteps for the fledgling leader
, notably on foreign
issues, when he had to apologize for appearing to make light of
the crisis in Ukraine and later made an off-colour reference to
deployment of Canadian fighter jets
to combat Islamic State
extremists in Iraq.
But Trudeau made no apologies. “The fact is I’m not the kind of
scripted, controlled rigid politician that Mr. Harper is,” he
said, adding that Canadians “appreciate” his openness.
He also doesn’t regret the Liberals’ opposition to the
government’s decision send fighter jets into combat over Iraq.
He said Canada had the ability to assist with humanitarian
efforts, aid displaced refugees or provide medical support and
air lift capacity but that the prime minister turned a deaf ear
to such ideas.
“I have said from the very beginning that I know Canada has an
important role to play as part of the coalition fighting against
ISIL (Islamic State). My disagreement with the prime minister
was on how Canada can best contribute to the international
efforts,” he said.
He said the Liberals backed the move to deploy 69 military
advisers to Iraq and would support the deployment of even more,
as other countries are doing.