Trudeau returns to by-election campaign trail

Opposition parties criticize prime minister for appearing on the stump as advance voting on five federal by-elections begin

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

OTTAWA – Advance voting began Friday in five federal by-elections and the prime minister was back on the stump, appearing at an event for the Liberal candidate in an Ottawa-area riding.

Justin Trudeau’s late afternoon visit to Ottawa-Vanier followed an event Thursday night in a Toronto riding with the Liberal candidate there, the former director of appointments in his office.

The Liberals say he has campaigned in every federal byelection since he became party leader in 2013, but the opposition argue that the rules should be different now that he’s prime minister.

“Prime ministers should just make it a policy to stay away from campaigning during byelections,” said Conservative House leader Candice Bergen.

“It puts public servants in a difficult position, it puts into question who is paying for it, it puts into question will it be claimed on the campaign election expense.”

Liberal officials said the party pays all the costs appropriately determined to be election expenses and this will count toward the applicable election expense limits.

Trudeau’s lengthy Ottawa appearance was in support of candidate Mona Fortier, who is seeking to hold the seat long occupied by Mauril Belanger, who died last year from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

The prime minister spent an hour going door-to-door to several businesses during a snowy early spring storm in Ottawa.

He was well received at most places although his staged event got off to a rocky start at a coffee shop when a woman pressed him for answers on the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

“It’s going to be the national inquiry everyone needs,” he told the woman.

“Is it going to be safe for me and my children?” she replied.

Fortier’s NDP opponent, Emilie Taman, said Friday she did not particularly object to Trudeau’s appearance on the hustings, but said it is something that needs to be watched.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m not running against Justin Trudeau, I’m running against Mona Fortier,” she said.

“I’m borderline wanting to take it as a compliment.

“I wouldn’t want to see our country become like others, where it’s permanent campaign mode, there’s more campaigning being done than governing.”

While Taman said she didn’t want to see partisan politics interfere in the work of governing, she noted she was campaigning Friday with the help of NDP leadership candidates Peter Julien, Guy Caron and Niki Ashton.

The byelections in Alberta are for two seats in Calgary — one vacated by former prime minister Stephen Harper and the other by former immigration minister Jason Kenney, who quit federal politics and now is leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives.

The open seat in Quebec was held by former foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion and the spot in Markham-Thornhill was held by former immigration minister John McCallum, both given diplomatic posts by Trudeau earlier this year.

All of the seats have long been held by their respective parties and it’s unlikely any will change hands on election day, April 3.

Still, that doesn’t mean ridings should be taken for granted, Trudeau told Albertans in a campaign stop there earlier this month.

“They want a better option and that’s exactly what we’re putting forward,” he said. “We will not write off any corner of this country. That’s what I’m doing right here. That’s why I go to every byelection.”

The only riding Trudeau hasn’t hit yet is Saint-Laurent, Dion’s former Montreal-area seat. While he’s expected to visit prior to the vote, it could be awkward. The Liberal candidate, Emmanuella Lambropoulos, won the nomination over the candidate considered to be the party’s favoured choice.

Other parties are also campaigning hard. The Greens are running their deputy leader in Saint-Laurent and party leader Elizabeth May campaigned there on Friday. Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has been on the stump in Alberta, helped by, among other people, former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird and Laureen Harper, the former prime minister’s wife.