Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with a partisan speech that sounded much like the launch of an election campaign.

While the prime minister has insisted he has no interest in plunging the country into an election in the midst of the deadly third wave of COVID-19, his speech was aimed at positioning the governing Liberals as the only party with “real solutions to the real problems” facing Canadians.

By contrast, Trudeau portrayed the Conservatives as disconnected climate deniers and peddlers of disinformation with a two-faced leader.

And he painted the Bloc Quebecois as a party that’s all talk and no action, a manufacturer of jurisdictional squabbles, incapable of delivering the concrete measures Quebecers need.

He did not mention either the New Democrat or Green parties directly, although he urged Liberals to reach out to friends and neighbours who planted “a blue, orange or green” lawn sign during the 2019 campaign to spread the word about the Liberal plan for surviving the pandemic and reviving the shattered economy.

Trudeau’s wrap-up speech came little more than a week before his minority Liberal government is to introduce its first budget in two years, a document that will be dripping in more than $380-billion worth of pandemic-induced red ink and will lay out up to $100 billion more in new spending that Liberals say will stimulate more equitable, inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

If all three of the main opposition parties were to vote against the budget, the government would fall. However, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has promised his party won’t trigger an election during the pandemic.

Trudeau could decide to pull the plug himself and Liberal insiders suggest that could happen during the summer, provided the vaccine rollout is going smoothly and the pandemic, currently spreading like wildfire once again, is brought back under control.

In his speech to the virtual convention Saturday, Trudeau reminded Liberals of all the measures his government hastily introduced to help millions of Canadians stay afloat during the health crisis: the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the wage subsidy, rent relief, business loans, among others.

“My friends, what it all comes down to is this: which party has a real plan for the real problems in the real world,” he said, standing alone in a studio with red Liberal backdrop, facing a giant screen dotted with the faces of party supporters watching online.

“Some refuse to accept reality, all while offering falsehoods and division.”

He attacked Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives, repeatedly asking “how disconnected do you have to be” to advocate cutting CERB payments during the pandemic, to “call young people lazy when their summer jobs disappeared,” to “flirt with disinformation on public health and vaccines” and to refuse to admit that climate change is real?

“The problem for Erin O’Toole is that he’s not interested in real solutions to real problems,” Trudeau charged.

He accused the Conservative leader of being “willing to say different things to different people at different times,” claiming to want safer communities and to be personally pro-choice while pandering to the gun lobby and the anti-abortion faction of his party to win the Tory leadership.

As for the Bloc, the Liberals’ primary opponent in Quebec, Trudeau said it “pretends to be the only party that can speak for Quebeckers” while Liberals are the ones who deliver “the goods for Quebecers with direct help for seniors, businesses, families and workers.”

“When the time comes to deliver for Quebeckers, it takes Quebeckers in government,” he said.

He highlighted how his government has worked with Quebec authorities to combat the pandemic, including sending in the military and Red Cross to help in hard-hit long-term care homes.

“We prefer to choose action instead of division. We are always there for Quebecers, and for all Canadians,” he said. “And we will continue to have a unifying message instead of looking for squabbles.”

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