Election 2019: Liberals, Tories, NDP stay in their comfort zones
Leaders scrap over who is promising to spend too much – or not enough.
OTTAWA — The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats spent Sept. 30 at the halfway point of the federal election campaign in their comfort zones.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau talked about gun control. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer promised to improve access to a tax credit, this time for people with disabilities. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh promised, once again, his party would bring in universal and affordable child care nationwide.
All of them, meanwhile, went after each other for either promising to spend too much – or not enough, depending on who was talking.
Trudeau was in Toronto to speak with health-care professionals about what he promised a re-elected Liberal government would do about guns.
That is a hot topic in a city that has seen 342 shootings involving 505 victims this year alone, according to Toronto police data. Twenty-nine of the injuries were fatal. The numbers changed throughout the day to reflect more incidents being recorded.
Those proposed measures include outlawing the semi-automatic AR-15, which was used in many recent mass shootings in the US, a buy-back program for legally purchased assault rifles and working with provinces and territories to allow cities to further restrict or ban handguns.
“The choice for Canadians is crystal clear,” Trudeau said. “Liberals will strengthen gun control. Conservatives will weaken gun control.”
Those were fighting words from Trudeau, even as some of the people who shared the stage with him in Toronto said his proposals are not strong enough.
Scheer was also visiting familiar territory, as he went to Whitby, Ont. to propose legislation that would expand access to the federal disability tax credit, as well as make it easier for people to qualify for a registered savings plan for people with disabilities.
“It’s so important that Canadians with a disability can care for themselves and parents can support their children without worrying about their bottom line,” said Scheer, who made the announcement in the riding once held by the late Jim Flaherty, the former Conservative finance minister – at a facility for people with disabilities Flaherty helped birth.
Flaherty was an advocate for the disability community and so is his widow, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott. One of their sons has special needs.
The promise Scheer made follows other pledges to re-introduce tax credits the Liberals have eliminated, including for public transit and recreation programs for children. It also comes after the Liberal government was accused, in 2017, of trying to make it harder for diabetics to qualify.
“Imagine being told you’re insufficiently disabled to keep more of your own money to manage your own health,” said Scheer.
Scheer also faced questions about his never having finished the licensing process to become an insurance broker, a job he says he had before politics. The party says he was accredited, but left the industry before getting his licence.
Scheer said he worked in an insurance office for about six or seven months in 2003 and that his tasks included supporting more senior staff and providing information to customers. He said licensed brokers finalized transactions.
Out in Vancouver, Singh was promising to bring in universal child care, costing no more than $10 per day, across the country by 2030.
“Our goal is to make sure that no kid goes without child care, that every family gets the child care they need,” said Singh.
The NDP has long been pushing for such a national program, and made a similar promise to create one million spaces costing no more than $15 per day a central plank in their 2015 election platform under former leader Thomas Mulcair.
Singh noted that the Liberals have also promised universal child care before, notably in the 1993 campaign that brought former prime minister Jean Chretien to power, but never brought it in. The Liberals did pledge $7.5 billion over 11 years to child care, but did not create a universal program.
The Liberals released their election platform on Sunday, and its contents helped provide talking points to both Trudeau and his rivals.
There is billions in new spending – $57 billion worth, according to the Conservatives’ critical math – to be financed in party by new taxes on the wealthy, large international corporations, foreign housing speculators and tech giants.
There’s billions in red ink, too: the platform projects a $27.4-billion deficit next year, falling to $21 billion by the fourth year of what would be a second Liberal mandate, should Trudeau’s growth-and-investment approach win out over what he calls the cuts and austerity of the Conservatives.
Scheer highlighted what Conservatives consider Liberal disregard for the federal balance sheet, an image Trudeau seemed to lean into Sunday as an important point of distinction between the two parties.
“(Trudeau) has made billions of dollars in uncosted promises that will force him to either raise taxes, break promises or break the bank,” Scheer said.
The platform does not include costing for the promise to introduce a national pharmacare program, which Trudeau noted would require negotiations with the provinces and territories.
Singh, who suggested that means Trudeau was backing away from his promise to bring in universal pharmacare, which the NDP has promised to implement, portrayed the Liberals as a party that will also bring in cuts to services.
He also said voters should not believe Trudeau when he describes the election as a choice between the Liberals and Tories.
“Mr. Trudeau is going to scare you and say you have to settle for less, but you don’t have to settle for less,” Singh said.