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Hope vs. fear: Parsing Trudeau’s rally speech

John Geddes on takeaways and messaging that preview the remainder of the campaign


 
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, holding his son Hadrien, his wife Sophie and two children Xavier, left, and Ella-Grace wave to a crowd of supporters during a rally Sunday, October 4, 2015 in Brampton, Ont. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau holds his son Hadrien, with his wife, Sophie, by his side, as well as his two other children Xavier, left, and Ella-Grace, during a rally on Oct. 4, 2015, in Brampton, Ont. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Telling details from the rousing speech Justin Trudeau delivered yesterday at what Liberals are touting as “the biggest rally in a generation” are worth pausing to consider, as the campaign rumbles on into its final two weeks, for reasons other than the sheer size of the gathering that cheered them.

The location is the clearest clue to where the Liberals think this campaign is heading in its final two weeks. In the heart of the ethnically diverse suburbs on Toronto’s western edge, the junior-hockey arena in Brampton, Ont., where Trudeau took the stage is strategically positioned to draw in voters from the nearly 50 ridings in and around Canada’s biggest city.

It was here that Michael Ignatieff led the Liberals in 2011 to their grimmest disappointment—including losing his own riding—and here where Trudeau must make huge gains to come out of top on Oct. 19.

Related: For the record, Justin Trudeau’s notes from Brampton’s rally

In case there were any doubt about the voters the Liberals are targeting, Trudeau made combatting traffic congestion—not traditionally a high-level preoccupation of federal leaders—a key point in his speech. He mocked Stephen Harper for claiming that his federal infrastructure spending is making it easier for Canadians to commute.

“Really, he actually said that,” Trudeau said. “Stephen Harper just doesn’t see what you’re going through. When you spend a decade in a motorcade, you don’t have to worry about traffic jams.”

It’s actually not self-evident that the Harper government’s record on transit spending has been laughable. “This level of permanent, ongoing funding has the potential to be transformative for public transit across the country,” Brad Woodside, the mayor of Fredericton and president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said after the Tories promised more money for this top city priority in last spring’s budget.

Still, Trudeau is on a roll and, at least in the Brampton rink, the party faithful ate up his lines about Harper being so absurdly out of touch. That’s the man he was mocking, mind you, not Tory voters. To rank-and-file Conservatives, Trudeau’s message was more conciliatory. “Conservatives are not our enemies,” he said. “They’re our neighbours. They want what’s best for their country, just like we do. They want safe communities and a growing economy.”

It sounds a lot like the Liberals are focusing now on trying to coax Conservative-leaning voters into their column. There was no similar message directed at the NDP. In fact, Tom Mulcair featured only fleetingly, and in French, in Trudeau’s big speech—a reflection of the polls that suggest the NDP leader is now struggling to pull back into contention to win. At least in the Toronto suburbs, the Liberals don’t seem to view the NDP as a major threat anymore.

Trudeau got a lot of cheers last night for just about everything he said. To my ear, though, there was a particular edge to the gust of audience reaction that followed his reference to Harper’s unfortunate choice of the term “old stock,” during last month’s debate among the leaders on economic policy, to describe Canadians whose families came here generations ago.

Denouncing Harper as a divisive politician, Trudeau said, “East against west, urban against rural, French against English, so-called ‘old stock’ Canadians vs newcomers”—and the crowd erupted—“his first instinct is to appeal to the worst instincts.” The message here to immigrants and their children could not be missed, and wasn’t.

That was pretty tough stuff from a politician who is promising not to go negative. Trudeau insists that’s Harper’s way, not his, and warned his followers to expect the worst from the Tories in the coming days. “Harper’s Conservatives are going to do the only thing they know how to do,” he said. “They’ll throw every nasty ad and every dirty trick in the book at us.”

But when it came to summing up the task at hand for the Liberals, Trudeau didn’t pull his punches: “Most of all, we have the chance to take this country from Stephen Harper and give it back to Canadians.” By the time he was declaring that the country needs taking back, it was hard to remember those earlier lines about Conservatives being neighbours, not enemies. In case you were wondering, this campaign will not end placidly.

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Hope vs. fear: Parsing Trudeau’s rally speech

  1. If the Liberals go on to win and form government, and if this speech is later regarded as a key event in making that happen, no doubt the comparison will be made to Pierre Trudeau’s speech in the 1980 referendum in the Paul Sauve Arena: A key speech made in the heart of hostile territory (in Brampton, “hostile” in the sense that Liberals lost out to the CPC in the 905, so an area where they need make gains) that was instrumental in making the case for his side and his vision, emphasizing the unity of Canadians instead of the divisions.

  2. I find it funny how the Liberals pretend to be positive and criticise everyone else for using negative tactics, yet when they go negative, it’s always “different” somehow. Case in point, Trudeau began the campaign in August with aggressive attacks against Tom Mulcair and the NDP. In fact, the Liberals mentioned the NDP more than the Conservatives at first.

    Trudeau blasted Mulcair’s promise to gradually increase spending with moderate tax increases while balancing the budget as an “austerity” agenda (even though Trudeau had publicly been in favour of balanced budgets until July). Paul Martin, yup the guy who introduced the steepest spending cuts in Canadian history, shared the podium with Justin and accused the NDP of having a “Far Right” agenda.

    Trudeau later accused the NDP of planning cuts to healthcare and childcare, even though the NDP is the ONLY party campaigning on increasing healthcare funding and substantially increasing childcare funding. Trudeau then got his buddy at Queen’s Park, Premier Wynne, to call the NDP plan “unworkable” because it requires partial provincial funding. Again, forget the fact that Premier Wynne, the same one, voted in favour of a private member’s bill in 2013 calling on the federal government to basically do what the NDP is proposing now.

    A yes, and then there’s the federal minimum wage for 100, 000 low income Canadian who work in federally regulated industries. Apparently, it was “false hope” and a “trick;” however, when Justin Trudeau voted in favour of a federal minimum wage in 2013 he clearly didn’t think so.

    Of course, the chestnut for the Liberals is the Clarity Act. Despite the fact that the Quebec Liberal Party agrees with the NDP position and also opposes the Clarity Act, Trudeau would often remind voters of the NDP position and insinuate that it was somehow unpatriotic. Apparently, Justin Trudeau has a monopoly on Canadian nationalism, and (apparently) if we don’t all agree with his symmetrical federalist strategy we’re traitors to our nation.

    Hope vs. Fear indeed.

    • These are all attacks on the NDP platform. You may quibble with the honesty of the attacks, but going after a party’s platform is fair game. The NDP have had their fair share of dubious attacks on the LPC platform too.

      Going negative, at least in my view, happens when the attack is on the person and not the party. And even then it is fair game if it is true. Case in point: the NDP raising the issue of Trudeau accepting speaking fees is fair game. Mulcair’s snide and disrespectful commentary during the debate, implying Trudeau is stupid, are not.

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