Food fight: Liberals, Tories trade shots as pre-campaign battles intensify
There's three months to go before the federal election and public opinion polls indicate the Libs and Cons in a neck-and-neck fight for power.
OTTAWA—Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre took aim at the Liberals Monday morning for bringing back former prime ministerial aide Gerald Butts to work on their election campaign.
An hour later, from the same dais in the national press building, Liberal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor accused Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer of spewing untrue statements on Canada’s new food guide.
With three months to go before the federal election and public opinion polls indicating the two are in a neck-and-neck fight for power, the Liberals and Conservatives are drawing clear battle lines: Liberals say they’re the party of science and the Tories are the party of pandering. Conservatives say they’re the party of honour while the Liberals are the party of self-interest.
Poilievre took the offensive Monday.
Butts, a close longtime friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left his role as Trudeau’s principal secretary in February while categorically denying accusations that he pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to assist Montreal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to be considered for an agreement akin to a plea bargain. The company faces criminal charges over its allegedly corrupt dealings in Libya in the 2000s.
“The fact is that this accusation exists,” Butts said in a public statement at the time. “It cannot and should not take one moment away from the vital work the prime minister and his office is doing for all Canadians.”
The SNC-Lavalin controversy also led to the resignations of Wilson-Raybould and fellow senior minister Jane Philpott over Trudeau’s handling of the affair, plus the early retirement of Michael Wernick, Canada’s top public servant. Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott were eventually ejected from the Liberal caucus and both are running for re-election as Independents.
Butts and Trudeau have been friends since meeting in university in the 1990s and Trudeau has leaned on his counsel for much of his political career. Butts’ return tells Canadians a lot about Trudeau, Poilievre said Monday.
“The Lav-scam bully is in and the principled women who spoke truth to power are out,” he said.
Wilson-Raybould was punished for doing the right thing, Poilievre charged.
“Over a four-month period, now documented clearly, they pushed and pushed and pushed,” he said. “Jody Wilson-Raybould stood on principle and said no. And so, Trudeau and Butts fired her as attorney general. She spoke out and then they kicked her out of the caucus all together.”
Wilson-Raybould declined Monday to comment on Butts’ involvement in the Liberal campaign.
A Liberal party official confirmed Sunday that Butts will play a central role in the Liberals’ re-election effort but would give no more details.. Petitpas Taylor also did not expand on what his position will entail when she was asked about it on Monday.
“We are pleased to have Gerry working on our campaign,” she said. “He was an integral part of our team in 2015 and Gerry, as well as many other Canadians, will be helping us we move along in forming our campaign strategies for 2019.”
She tried to extend her commentary to say that opposition to science and evidence is a troubling trend among Conservative politicians.
Last Wednesday, Tory Leader Scheer told an annual gathering of the Dairy Farmers of Canada in Saskatoon that the process to craft the new version of the Canada Food Guide, released in January, was “flawed” and it needs to reflect what “science tells us.”
“Absolutely, we are going to review that Canada Food Guide,” Scheer said, adding there was a “complete lack of consultation” on it. Health Canada disregarded evidence presented by producers such as the dairy farmers, he said.
The food guide has received an overwhelmingly positive response, including from nutrition experts, Petitpas Taylor said Monday. Health Canada received more than 25,000 submissions during the consultation period, she said.
She said her party will continue to base its policy decisions “on facts and science as opposed to what the other party chooses to do.”
Ontario Liberal MP Marco Mendicino, the parliamentary secretary to Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said alongside Petitpas Taylor on Monday that it is a “good thing” for Butts to play a role in the campaign.
“We are focused on running a positive campaign,” he said, adding it is of no great surprise to those engaged in public life that Conservatives are “back to attacking the prime minister and his staff on a personal basis.”
“The reason for that is because they would rather be changing the channel and be talking about those issues rather than the importance and the significance of evidence and science and data.”