The sky was blue, the families were smiling, the toddlers were taking tender steps through the grass. Canada’s Conservative Party leader was ready to make a childcare announcement and as he approached the microphone, the campaign backdrop was pitch perfect: a giddy child on a bouncy castle.
And then Erin O’Toole intruded on his own moment. He unloaded on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a way Canadian voters have rarely, if ever, heard.
“Every Canadian has met a Justin Trudeau in their lives – privileged, entitled and always looking out for number one. He was looking out for number one when he called this expensive and unnecessary election in the middle of a pandemic. That’s not leadership, that’s self-interest. And it’s Justin Trudeau through and through,” O’Toole said, as the child behind him bounced blithely away.
He went on for nearly 20 minutes, accusing the left-leaning Liberal Party leader of corruption, cover-ups, and of launching an “American-style” misinformation campaign against O’Toole himself and his party’s policies.
“I’d say he’s all talk and no action, but this is worse. A person so blinded by his own ambition, that he can’t see the rot in his own party. A man who’s not a feminist, not an environmentalist, not a public servant, a man who’s focused solely and squarely on himself,” said O’Toole.
O’Toole’s attack was like a lightning strike disrupting a national election campaign already ugly and unsettled on many fronts. The pointed and very personal attack inevitably elicited a counterstrike from Trudeau a few hours later.
“I’m not impugning his character. I’m not saying he doesn’t love his kids. I’m saying he’s wrong about how to ensure jobs and prosperity and a protected country for people in the future. But that’s what Canadians get to choose. I’m going to let him and his proxies and the anti-vaxxer movement and the gun lobby and the anti-choice crowd continue to attack me, fine. I’m going to stay focused on Canadians,” said Trudeau during a press conference in Vancouver Monday.
Canada votes on Sept. 20
In a few short weeks, Canada’s snap election has turned from a cakewalk into a tightrope for Trudeau, giving his conservative opponent the opportunity to launch personal attacks in a blunt and sustained way rarely heard in the country’s political discourse.
The vote, set for September 20, includes six federal parties. While Trudeau and O’Toole are likely the only leaders capable of forming a government, given their national support, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), polls well and could again hold the balance of power in any Canadian parliament.
The pandemic, climate change, housing affordability and gun control have all featured as major issues with voters.
But Trudeau’s vulnerability is, in fact, the election itself, which he voluntarily triggered just as a bruising fourth wave of the pandemic took hold in Canada.
Trudeau called the snap election in mid-August, barely two years into his minority government, betting he could capitalize on his handling of the pandemic to win a majority in parliament. But once-favorable polls have quickly reversed course, with O’Toole and Trudeau now in a statistical tie, according to national tracking surveys over the past few days.