Trudeau attacks troika of Tories in first salvo for federal battle for Ontario

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau fired the first shot in Monday’s battle for vote-rich Ontario by telling its voters not to ”double down” on a Conservative government after they elected Doug Ford as premier.

Trudeau used a new promise of a national pharmacare program to portray Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as a faithful Ford follower who won’t defend their interests in fighting for better access to doctors, drugs or mental health counsellors.

And he branded that as an attempt to take the country back to the era of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, deriding his “trickle down” economics that he said “failed” Canadians.

Trudeau was erecting a virtual troika of Conservative bogeymen after last week’s shocking blackface controversy in which his brand, and his re-election chances, took a major hit with the emergence of images of him in black or brown makeup at costume events before he entered politics.

The images dominated the campaign, offending many and raising questions about the Liberal leader’s judgment.

Trudeau has repeatedly apologized, saying his dressing up was racist, but has asked Canadians to judge him on his record.

On Monday, he positioned himself as a defender of public health who will stand against Conservative cost-cutting.

“The question becomes for Canadians: who do you want negotiating with Doug Ford when it comes to your health?” Trudeau said in Hamilton.

Trudeau repeated that line, using it as a mantra to frame himself as the best defender of Canada’s sacrosanct public health care system regardless of his past conduct.

“That is the choice people are facing: whether we continue to move forward, or we go back to the Harper years by doubling down on Conservatives who believe in cuts,” said Trudeau.

Scheer and Trudeau are each hoping to discover a bountiful crop of support as they focus Monday’s federal campaign efforts on the densely populated suburbs north of Toronto and the rest of the so-called Golden Horseshoe.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Leader Elizabeth May take their undercard battle to Atlantic Canada. In Bathurst, N.B., Singh introduced Daniel Theriault as the party’s ”star candidate” in the riding of Acadie-Bathurst that former NDP MP Yvon Godin held for about 18 years before the Liberals took it in the 2015 election. May is scheduled to make an announcement in Fredericton.

Monday was Trudeau’s second straight day courting suburban family voters; he spent Sunday in Brampton, Ont., promising the picket-fence crowd a big-ticket tax cut worth billions and a 25 per cent reduction in their cellphone bills.

Scheer, meanwhile, arrives in the suburban community of Vaughan, Ont., after a visit to Prince Edward Island, where he made a commitment of a different kind: a pledge to veterans to personally oversee efforts to reset the Conservative party’s relationship with Canada’s ex-soldiers.

Scheer not only promised to correct a host of the reasons why veterans in Canada are mad at the Liberals and Conservatives — clear the benefits backlog, overhaul their hated pension plan, improve transition supports — but he also promised to oversee the efforts himself and enshrine respect for veterans in legislation.

“As prime minister, I will take a personal interest in ensuring the commitments we made today are followed through on,” Scheer said.

On Sunday, Singh continued to make public concern about climate change and natural disasters a priority.

During a stop in Gatineau, Que., Singh pledged to add $2.5 billion to the federal government’s disaster mitigation fund. The idea, he said, is to help people — like those in west Quebec who recently faced severe flooding — avoid disasters and be able to stay in their current homes.

“We can’t just close our eyes” to the prospect of more weather-related disasters, he said.

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