Trudeau vows to bolster support for police, fire fighters as he showcases Blair

Liberals' star recruit, newly retired Toronto police chief Bill Blair, is feted with new campaign promises

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. (Galit Rodan/CP)

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. (Galit Rodan/CP)

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau is backing up his latest star recruit — newly retired Toronto police chief Bill Blair — with promises that a Liberal government would beef up support for first responders.

The Liberal leader said Monday that he’d create a public safety officer compensation benefit of $300,000 to support the families of firefighters, paramedics or police officers killed or permanently injured in the line of duty.

He also said he’d reinstate federal funding for four heavy urban search and rescue teams, which was cut by the Harper government.

And he’d create a national action plan on post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We ask first responders to stand in harm’s way to protect us and keep us safe,” Trudeau told a conference of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

“They deserve nothing less than the highest level of support and care their country can provide.”

Trudeau was introduced at the conference by Blair, who announced Sunday — less than 24 hours after retiring as Toronto police chief — his intention to seek the Liberal nomination in the riding of Scarborough Southwest.

The Liberal leader clearly hopes having Blair on his party’s election ticket will help counter the Conservative assertion that Liberals are soft on crime.

“Quite frankly, after 39 years of policing … any suggestion that I’m soft on crime is absolutely nonsense,” Blair said at a joint news conference with Trudeau after the speech.

Indeed, Conservatives were quick to point out that Blair has publicly supported some of their crime legislation, including mandatory minimum sentences, that Liberals voted against.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney also pointed out that Liberals “shamefully” voted against increased funding for frontline RCMP officers.

However, Blair signalled that he and Trudeau are on the same page when it comes to their reaction to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s insistence that it’s offensive for Muslim women to cover their faces while taking the oath of Canadian citizenship. Trudeau has accused Harper of deliberately stoking fear of terrorism and fuelling anti-Muslim bigotry.

“One of the things that I have learned is that fear is the greatest threat to public safety,” Blair said, adding that it’s difficult to protect communities where people are afraid of each other and afraid to talk to the police.

Public figures need to be “very careful in our language” and supportive of diversity, he added.

“Because if we fail to do that, if we create a sense of exclusion, if we make a young person feel that they are less included in society … they are much more likely to make bad choices.”

Trudeau made no apologies for personally endorsing Blair’s candidacy but said he’ll still have win an open nomination in the Scarborough riding, which is currently held by NDP MP Dan Harris.