Federal party leaders address election's negativity, divisiveness
TORONTO -- After weeks of trading personal barbs and attacking each other’s policy plans, the leaders of three main federal parties are defending their roles in what is being called a particularly divisive campaign.
During a stop in Fredericton Tuesday morning, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau characterized the past month of campaigning as being more contentious than what he experienced in the previous federal election.
“One of the things that I was most focused on in 2015, after 10 years of a government that played regional politics and looked to pit Canadians against Canadians, was to bring Canadians together,” he said. “Yet we find ourselves now in a more polarized, more divisive election than even the 2015 one.”
Trudeau made the comment moments after he was asked if he was using the threat of Conservative cuts to scare Canadians into voting for his party, instead of the NDP or Greens, in order to stop the Tories.
“We have been very positive in the approach that we take and we will remain so,” Trudeau replied. “We demonstrated that investing in Canadians grows the economy and lifts people out of poverty and that's the positive choice that Canadians are facing. Do we continue to do that or do we go back to Harper cuts?”
With recent polls suggesting that a minority government is on the horizon, party leaders have faced repeated questions about their willingness to work with each other in the House.
On Sunday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he would be open to forming a coalition government with the Liberals should the Conservatives win a minority next week.
“We're not going to support a Conservative government. We're going to fight a Conservative government. We’re going to fight it all the way. So we're ready. We're ready to do whatever it takes,” he said at the time.
However, the NDP leader has since shifted focus away from those comments; instead, encouraging progressive voters to support his party in order to prevent a potential Conservative-led government.
“I'm proud of the fact that I'm ready to fight Conservatives no matter what, and however I can. I think Canadians want that,” Singh said during a campaign stop in Toronto on Tuesday.
Singh, too, was asked about his thoughts on some of the negativity that has been on display in the campaign. He acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to be done to address some of the issues, such as systemic discrimination and racism, which have been raised in the past few weeks.
“We’ve got to be honest about the barriers that still exist and the fact that we want to tackle them,” he said. “When it comes to the divisiveness in politics, I believe it’s important to make the contrasts be known. It’s important for people to put forward their ideas and have different opinions.”
However, Singh stressed that those opinions should be expressed in a “respectful” and “safe” manner. He pointed to Trudeau’s appearance in Mississauga, Ont. on Saturday during which he wore a bulletproof vest because of an unspecified security concern.
“While I disagree with Mr. Trudeau’s policies, I absolutely think it’s wrong that he should be faced with any threat to his security,” Singh said.
“We should have a climate in Canada where we can have respectful discussions and disagreements. I’m going to do my best to make sure that that's the type of tone that we strike where we can disagree, we can be passionate, but we're respectful and everyone should be able to express their opinions in safety.”
Later Tuesday morning, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was also asked about the tone of the election during a visit to Quebec City. In response, he was quick to blame the Liberals for the animosity.
“When you look at the types of negative campaigns that Justin Trudeau and his team are running, I believe a lot of that comes from the attacks that Liberals have made,” he said.
Scheer then referenced a controversy stemming from March 2018 when the Conservatives accused Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau of calling the Tories’ deputy leader, Lisa Raitt, a “neanderthal.” A claim Morneau’s office has denied.
The Conservative leader also used the opportunity to point to a recent tweet by Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts, who is currently working on the Liberal campaign. In the tweet, Butts’ shared an image of Scheer shaking hands with a man wearing a high-visibility safety vest along with the caption: “Well, this is subtle. Sometimes a yellow vest is just a yellow vest?”
On Tuesday, Scheer claimed Butts was attempting to link him to the so-called “yellow vests” movement, which has been accused of anti-immigrant and racist sentiments.
“Justin Trudeau’s top advisor tweeted out a picture of me shaking hands with a construction worker wearing a safety vest and making a link to racists. I mean that’s just despicable,” Scheer said. “Justin Trudeau has yet to apologize for that or order his top advisor to apologize for that. He has basically insulted anyone who has to wear a high-visibility safety vest to work.”
There is nothing to suggest the man photographed shaking hands with Scheer in the photo has any affiliation with the yellow vest group. However, the Conservative leader has faced criticism in the past for speaking at a rally in Ottawa in February that was associated with the yellow vests group.