By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with a partisan speech that sounded much like the launch of an election campaign.
While the prime minister has insisted he has no interest in plunging the country into an election in the midst of the deadly third wave of COVID-19, his speech was aimed at positioning the governing Liberals as the only party with “real solutions to the real problems” facing Canadians.
By contrast, Trudeau portrayed the Conservatives as disconnected climate deniers and peddlers of disinformation with a two-faced leader.
And he painted the Bloc Québécois as a party that’s all talk and no action, a manufacturer of jurisdictional squabbles, incapable of delivering the concrete measures Quebecers need.
He did not mention either the New Democrat or Green parties directly, although he urged Liberals to reach out to friends and neighbours who planted “a blue, orange or green” lawn sign during the 2019 campaign to spread the word about the Liberal plan for surviving the pandemic and reviving the shattered economy.
Liberal rank and file, meanwhile, endorsed Saturday a number of policy resolutions that could wind up mowing the NDP and Green parties’ grass should they wind up in the Liberal election platform, including calls for a universal basic income, national pharmacare and enforceable national standards for long-term care homes.
Trudeau’s wrap-up speech came little more than a week before his minority Liberal government is to introduce its first budget in two years, a document that will be dripping in more than $380-billion worth of pandemic-induced red ink and will lay out up to $100 billion more in new spending that Liberals say will stimulate more equitable, inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.
If all three of the main opposition parties were to vote against the budget, the government would fall. However, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has promised his party won’t trigger an election during the pandemic.
Trudeau could decide to pull the plug himself and Liberal insiders suggest that could happen during the summer, provided the vaccine rollout is going smoothly and the pandemic, currently spreading like wildfire once again, is brought back under control.
In his speech to the virtual convention Saturday, Trudeau reminded Liberals of all the measures his government hastily introduced to help millions of Canadians stay afloat during the health crisis: the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the wage subsidy, rent relief, business loans, among others.
“My friends, what it all comes down to is this: which party has a real plan for the real problems in the real world,” he said, standing alone in a studio with a red Liberal backdrop, facing a giant screen dotted with the faces of party supporters watching online.
“Some refuse to accept reality, all while offering falsehoods and division.”
He attacked Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives, repeatedly asking “how disconnected do you have to be” to advocate cutting CERB payments during the pandemic, to “call young people lazy when their summer jobs disappeared,” to “flirt with disinformation on public health and vaccines” and to refuse to admit that climate change is real?
“The problem for Erin O’Toole is that he’s not interested in real solutions to real problems,” Trudeau charged.
He accused the Conservative leader of being “willing to say different things to different people at different times,” claiming to want safer communities and to be personally pro-choice while pandering to the gun lobby and the anti-abortion faction of his party to win the Tory leadership.
As for the Bloc, the Liberals’ primary opponent in Quebec, Trudeau said it “pretends to be the only party that can speak for Quebecers” while Liberals are the ones who deliver “the goods for Quebecers with direct help for seniors, businesses, families and workers.”
“When the time comes to deliver for Quebecers, it takes Quebecers in government,” he said.
He highlighted how his government has worked with Quebec authorities to combat the pandemic, including sending in the military and Red Cross to help in hard-hit long-term care homes.
“We prefer to choose action instead of division. We are always there for Quebecers, and for all Canadians,” he said. “And we will continue to have a unifying message instead of looking for squabbles.”
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus countered with a statement accusing Trudeau of trying to “dine out on COVID benefits the NDP forced him to provide to Canadians.”
“Justin Trudeau wanted to leave millions of people behind, but the NDP wouldn’t let him,” said Angus, whose party was holding its own virtual convention Saturday.
Earlier in the day, grassroots Liberals ranked a national pharmacare program — a favourite demand of New Democrats — as their top priority among 26 resolutions chosen to become official party policy. The Trudeau government has promised to deliver pharmacare but has so far taken only incremental steps toward achieving it.
Two slightly different resolutions on implementing a universal basic income were ranked second and fifth, despite Trudeau’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. He has suggested now is not the time to embark on a costly overhaul of the country’s social safety net.
The parliamentary budget officer last week concluded that a universal basic income could almost halve Canada’s poverty rate in just one year but at a steep cost: $85-billion in 2021-22, rising to $93-billion in 2025-26.
Conservative MP Ed Fast said Trudeau would have to “increase personal income taxes by almost 50 per cent, or triple the GST” in order to pay the basic income tab.
“The simple fact is that this risky and unknown experiment will leave millions more Canadians behind,” Fast said in a statement.
Liberals ranked national standards for long-term care homes as their third-highest priority.
Other resolutions that made the top 26 included calls for a 10 per cent increase in old age security for those 70 and over, a “green new deal” to ensure a just and fair to transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and investments in affordable housing, a trans-Canada high-speed rail line and expanded access to high-speed Internet.
Liberals rejected the one resolution that could have helped the government pay for all the other proposed costly new initiatives endorsed by convention-goers.
That defeated resolution called on the government to impose an inheritance tax on all assets over $2 million and to reduce the capital gains tax exemption by 40 per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2021.