Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer appear to be re-litigating Ontario’s last provincial election in their battle for the 121 federal seats in Canada’s most populous province.
That was the tenor of Trudeau’s announcement Monday, unveiling a pledge to invest $6 billion over four years to improve Canadians’ access to pharmacare, family doctors, and mental health services.
The Liberal leader was clearer about his sentiments towards his top political rival and the Ontario premier than he was with details related to his party’s multi-billion dollar health care promise.
“Who do you want at the negotiation table, standing up to Doug Ford?” he asked, referring to future discussions on the Canada health accord. “Andrew Scheer, who follows Doug Ford’s lead or our Liberal team who will fight for you?”
Watch: Justin Trudeau promises more money for health care
Trudeau maligned the provincial Progressive Conservative government for making spending cuts on health care and education — and mocked Ford for prioritizing increasing access to cheaper alcohol.
“There aren’t enough teachers offering courses in Ontario this year for Grade 12s to put together the credits they need to graduate. Think about that. That’s what happens when a government focuses on buck-a-beer.”
Trudeau’s evocation of Ford’s name continues a trend in how Liberals are attacking Conservatives in the battleground province. The Liberal leader said Ford’s name 15 times during the health care announcement and media availability with reporters in Hamilton.
Last month, the prime minister defended his use of the Ontario premier’s name when asked if he was running against Ford or Scheer in the election. Trudeau didn’t answer the question, saying, “We’ve seen time and time again what happens when Conservative governments get elected.”
Meanwhile, at a campaign announcement in Vaughan, Ont., Scheer ducked a question about how he is different from Ford. Despite embracing the Tory premier after he formed a majority government last year, Scheer has kept his distance from Ford as his popularity has fallen.
“The real question is what’s the difference between Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau,” he said, referring to the former Ontario premier. “The very same people who are the architects of the failed Kathleen Wynne-Dalton McGuinty government that raised taxes, ran massive deficits, mired in scandals and corruption… are now working for Justin Trudeau and they’re following the same playbook.”
Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, worked for McGuinty when he was in opposition and was a top staffer to former Ontario education minister Gerard Kennedy. Gerald Butts, who quit the Prime Minister’s Office during the SNC-Lavalin affair and is now advising the Liberal campaign, served as McGuinty’s principal secretary for nearly five years.
Scheer was also pressed about a new online ad that directly targets former Ontario Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, whose party was decimated in the 2018 provincial election.
“I think it’s important for people in Ontario to know that Justin Trudeau will follow exact — and has been following — the exact same playbook that Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty ran here in Ontario,” Scheer said. “Voters here In Ontario understand what happens when you let Liberals continue their corrupt ways, continue to run massive deficits, continue to break their promises and lie to the people that they’re elected to serve.”
When a reporter noted how often Trudeau mentioned Ford Monday, while warning a federal Conservative government will mean cuts to health care, Scheer reiterated that he has promised premiers he will boost health and social transfers by at least three per cent each year.
“It’s quite clear that I’m ready to run against Justin Trudeau. I’m holding Justin Trudeau to account. And he is desperate to run against anybody other than me,” he said.
Ford, meanwhile, has said he is “too busy governing” to be dragged into the federal race. However, he did blast Trudeau for his previous instances of donning blackface and brownface.
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Ford told CTV News Friday the images are “unacceptable” and suggested a double standard in how Trudeau is being treated, saying “it would have been a different story” had a conservative been caught in a similar controversy.