OTTAWA—With just days to go before the federal election, the Conservatives are taking dead aim at Justin Trudeau and his resurgent Liberals.
On Wednesday, Oct. 14, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper focused his attacks on Trudeau’s economic plans, saying they will cost jobs and mean higher taxes.
Meanwhile, ads in Chinese and Punjabi media have attacked Trudeau on the issues of marijuana and prostitution, hinting that the Liberals would allow brothels in people’s neighbourhoods.
The Liberals have not said they would legalize prostitution. The Conservatives say they’re simply raising questions of values. They are also trying to shore up Conservative support among the ethnic communities they have successfully wooed for years.
The previous day, Harper literally put cash on the table in an effort to halt the momentum of the Liberals.
Twice recently, the Conservatives have staged low-tech stunts designed to illustrate how much they say Liberal tax changes will cost voters as Harper attempts to pick apart the Liberal platform.
Harper played the role of game show host again Tuesday, Oct. 13, at a partisan rally in west-end Toronto, calling out Liberal tax increases as a pizza store owner counted bills onto a table to the backdrop of a loudly ringing cash register.
“The tax hikes the Liberals talk about, they are not just numbers in a pamphlet,” said Harper, without jacket or tie and with his blue shirt sleeves rolled up.
“They are real dollars and I want to show you again today what the payroll tax hikes look like.”
Conservative party videographers took tight shots as pizza store owner Dino Ari laid bills on a table to repeated “ka-chings” from a cash register.
“Hand it over, Dino,” Harper said. “I hope you counted that carefully.”
The Conservatives staged a similar display on the Thanksgiving weekend and the stunt appears destined for party advertising in the final moments of this extraordinary 78-day campaign, the longest in modern Canadian history.
All three major party leaders were in the greater Toronto area on Tuesday morning as polls continue to suggest an electorate in flux and swathes of seat-rich Ontario up for grabs.
There’s also compelling evidence of a motivated electorate.
An estimated 1.2 million voters cast ballots in advance polls Monday, according to Elections Canada, bringing the four-day holiday weekend total to more than 3.6 million ballots cast. That’s an increase of 71 percent over advance ballots in the 2011 election, when only three days of advance polls were held.
Antipathy to Harper’s Conservatives appears to be the only unifying element among the various challengers to the throne.
“I got into politics because I disagreed deeply with the vision that Stephen Harper has for this country and there is no circumstances in which I could either support him or even stand back and allow him to be prime minister,” Trudeau said when asked about a potential minority Conservative government.
The Liberal leader, who ventured into an NDP-held riding in Toronto, appears to be trying to peel off voters from both the New Democrats and Tories, while hoping to win over strategic voters who might see an incumbent NDP MP as the best vehicle for removing Harper from office.
“You do have a choice—multiple choices,” Trudeau said. “I won’t pretend that you don’t. To suggest otherwise would be arrogant and an insult to your intelligence. So I’m not asking you to look at the polls—I’m asking you to look at our platform.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, framed by a crowd of partisans waving orange, octagonal “Stop Harper” signs, spoke to a rally in Oshawa, Ont., just east of Toronto. He continued to maintain that New Democrats are only a few dozen seats short of unseating the Conservatives—notwithstanding that every party starts with zero seats when Parliament is dissolved and a new general election campaign begins.
“Mr. Trudeau in this campaign has spent more time going after the NDP than he’s spent going after Stephen Harper,” Mulcair charged. “I challenge Mr. Trudeau to start taking on Stephen Harper.”
During a campaign stop in Granby, Que., on Tuesday, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe predicted a swift end to Conservative rule in the event the Tories can’t eke out a majority in the newly expanded 338-seat House of Commons.
“Stephen Harper will not be prime minister even if he finishes with the most seats in a minority Parliament,” he said.
Harper, who spent the 2011 election campaign warning repeatedly about a potential, unstable coalition government if he couldn’t secure a majority, is refusing to speculate on any such outcome this time.
With no potential dance partners after Oct. 19, Harper is counting on rallying his core support.
The Conservative leader visited the highly symbolic Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, where former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lost his seat in 2011 en route to the worst Liberal electoral drubbing in party history.
Etobicoke is also Ford country, as in the well-known Toronto city councillors Rob and Doug Ford, both of whom were in attendance for Harper’s morning rally, where they were introduced as “two great sons of Etobicoke Centre.”