Conservatives, NDP go on the offensive as Trudeau sits out 7th day of public campaigning

The three main federal parties lobbed attacks at each other Saturday, undaunted by the absence of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the seventh day on the federal campaign trail.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O'Toole, centre, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, right. (CBC, Erin O'Toole/Creative Commons, CBC)

The three main federal parties lobbed attacks at each other Saturday, undaunted by the absence of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the seventh day of the public federal campaign.

While it is not unusual for party leaders to take a down day on Saturdays because it's traditionally the day when parties return to home base to regroup, the current election has opened Trudeau up to criticism for launching a campaign as a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.

So it was that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh needed little prompting when reminded of Trudeau's blank itinerary as he began his day in Toronto.

"I don't know what his schedule is and why he's not campaigning.... I can just say, for me, on housing specifically and on many other things, Trudeau has been missing in action," Singh said, as he promised a supplement of up to $5,000 for those struggling to pay rent and a crackdown on so-called "renovictions." .

"He has been missing when it comes to helping people who are struggling with trying to find a place they can rent, [and] with people who are struggling to find a place they can buy."

Trudeau called the election last Sunday, triggering a campaign that will send voters to the polls on Sept. 20.

At a campaign stop in Edmonton, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole faced questions about his own team's decision to spend the first few days in a downtown Ottawa hotel campaigning on a set newly constructed  for television.

O'Toole said his "telephone town halls" allowed him to reach more Canadians "than all the other leaders combined" in southwestern Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec. O'Toole said he has learned as a "COVID era leader" how to connect with Canadians and expose the faults of his Liberal opponent.

"I want to connect with as many Canadians as possible that are worried about more years of division under Mr. Trudeau, more coverups, more ethical breaches," he said during a campaign stop in Edmonton.

O'Toole also pledged to work better with provincial premiers "because our country's become fractured under Mr. Trudeau, in part because there's always an Ottawa knows best approach." That, he said, would include Nova Scotia's new Progressive Conservative Premier Tim Houston, who unseated the governing Liberals earlier this week.

"There was a change with the Liberal government that tried to call a snap election in a pandemic," O'Toole quipped.

The Conservative and Liberal war rooms also volleyed attacks on each other.

The Conservative campaign said it had written to the federal ethics commissioner about former Liberal cabinet minister Judy Sgro, a candidate in the Humber River–Black Creek riding. A party release raises concerns about a reported trip she took to Italy in 2017, which was allegedly funded by the Basilicata Cultural Society of Canada.

"According to proactive disclosures on the website for the Ethics (Commissioner), Sgro never publicly disclosed the name of the third party who sponsored her trip to Italy," the release said.

Sponsored trips are permitted, but MPs must disclose who paid for them, the release said.

The Liberals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Liberals, meanwhile, highlighted a news release from anti-abortion group Right Now targeting O'Toole. The group is calling on O'Toole to say he will not ask medical professionals to refer patients seeking services such as abortion or medical assistance in dying to another provider if they object to performing these procedures themselves.

"Erin O'Toole promised to pro-lifers during the 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership race that he would protect conscience rights of medical professionals across Canada," Scott Hayward, co-founder and president of RightNow, said in Saturday's news release.

Hayward and his group want O'Toole to stick to that commitment, the release said.