Saturday saw the final clash of the campaign in the crucial battleground of the 905, as the Liberals and Conservatives whipped through the band of suburbs surrounding Canada’s biggest city in a late-stage effort to drum up the momentum that has so far escaped them through this heated and divisive election.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau started the day in Niagara Falls, stopped to rouse supporters in Hamilton and Brantford, and then hosted a rally in Milton — where the Liberals hope to unseat deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt — where he called on Canadians to elect a “strong, progressive” government on Monday.
Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, made his final push through the GTA, where he met local candidates, visited a Hindu temple in Scarborough, and poured cups of chai at a road hockey game in Brampton, where red and blue election signs competed for commuters’ attention.
But Scheer’s last swing through the region was marred by revelations his team hired Warren Kinsella, a political consultant and former Liberal staffer, to dig up dirt to damage People’s Party leader and former Conservative leadership rival Maxime Bernier. Scheer was peppered with questions about the Conservatives’ relationship with Kinsella at a morning news conference, but refused to comment.
With two days left before the election, it was also a tale of two battlegrounds, with a separate contest playing out in British Columbia, where Jagmeet Singh’s NDP hopes to block the rise of Elizabeth May and the Green Party and maintain the lift his party has experienced in the second half of the 40-day campaign.
After an estimated 4.7 million Canadians voted in advance polls over the Thanksgiving weekend, polls are projecting the likelihood of a tight race to election day, with a strong possibility that neither the Conservatives or Liberals will win enough seats to form a majority government.
The situation has already prompted jockeying between the parties about the prospect of a hung parliament, with a contingent of New Democrats, members from the Bloc Québécois and even the Greens possibly deciding who takes power, and for how long.
Scheer began the election campaign in Vaughan on Sept. 11, pitching his affordability message to 905 residents. But in the dying days of the campaign, his message has shifted in emphasis to dark warnings of New Democrats propping up a minority Liberal government unless Scheer gets a majority mandate on Monday.
“A Trudeau-led government with the NDP calling the shots would be the worst possible outcome for Canadians,” Scheer told reporters Saturday morning.
“The choice is clear. An NDP government wearing a Justin Trudeau mask … or a Conservative majority government that will live within its means and put more money in your pockets so you can get ahead.”
Scheer accused Trudeau of “openly” discussing a coalition government with the NDP, which is not true. Trudeau has declined to speculate on the possibility, saying only that Canadians need to elect a “progressive government.”
Scheer and the Conservatives need to pick up seats in the GTA if they have any hope of gaining power after Monday’s vote. But Conservative sources both involved in the Scheer campaign and in Toronto were not optimistic that the vote-rich 905 will turn blue in a big way.
For Trudeau, Saturday concluded two days of campaigning in the GTA and several communities around it in ridings where the Liberals are hoping to win away seats from the Conservatives and the New Democrats.
He started Saturday meeting with seniors over breakfast at a seniors’ residence in Niagara Falls. Then it was off to Hamilton, Brantford and Milton before he flew west for events in Winnipeg and Calgary.
Trudeau’s day stirred memories of the heady finale to his 2015 campaign when he was mobbed by huge crowds. In Brantford, Trudeau was greeted by an enthusiastic throng, and in Milton — where Liberals hope candidate Adam van Koeverden can unseat incumbent Lisa Raitt — hundreds packed a banquet hall to hear Trudeau speak.
At every stop, he delivered an 11th-hour message that framed the choice facing voters as a stark choice between two styles of government.
“The question they’re facing is, with that vote do we stop Conservative cuts, do we invest in our families and in our future and make life more affordable for them? Do we continue to strengthen gun control and get guns off our streets and do we step up in the fight against climate change?” Trudeau said during his Hamilton stop.
“We know this choice is important and Canadians across the country need to make the right choice. They need to pick a progressive government,” he said.
Meanwhile, out west, the NDP and Greens held competing rallies in Vancouver. May was set to host a rally Saturday night with famed environmentalist David Suzuki and music from Bill Henderson, singer and guitarist of the Canadian rock band, Chilliwack.
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Earlier, at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, a long lineup of people snaked around the block as NDP supporters crammed inside to hear Singh deliver his stump speech that accuses Liberals and Conservatives of governing on behalf of the upper class and includes his pledge never to support Scheer’s party in a minority parliament.
Earlier in the day, speaking at a non-profit housing community in downtown Vancouver’s west end, Singh claimed he has already succeeded on the campaign trail, having been all-but written off as an also-ran in its early days.
“I think we’ve (got) the imagination of the country, because we’ve asked Canadians to dream bigger,” Singh said. “We got here because of choices that were made by Conservatives and Liberals, we can get out of here by choices that are made by New Democrats and for people. So let’s do this.”