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‘How disconnected do you have to be?’ Trudeau rallies Liberal convention with stinging attacks on Conservatives


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‘How disconnected do you have to be?’ Trudeau rallies Liberal convention with stinging attacks on Conservatives

OTTAWA – As weekend parties go, the cops weren’t called, the neighbours dropped in, the guests didn’t revolt. And there’s was lots of red meat for a political base to chew on.

The mid-pandemic online Liberal Party policy convention lovefest that ended Saturday saw little of the internal griping and technical glitches of the NDP convention running in parallel online. And no embarrassing policy divide over climate change that the Conservative Party convention saw exposed between its leader and grassroots members last month.

Instead, the three-day virtual Liberal event attended by more than 4,000 delegates was all raw politics, all the time.

It featured cabinet ministers who painted Conservatives as willing to risk Canadians’ health out of stinginess. It offered the grassroots volunteers free campaigning advice from American Democrats fresh off a winning election. And it featured a high-profile endorsement from Mark Carney, the former central bank governor, former head of the Bank of England, and now climate action-and-finance guru, who pledged to support the Liberal Party, but didn’t commit to run.

It all appeared to put the Liberals in a higher state of election readiness than their rivals, even though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insists he’s not looking to call an election anytime soon.

In a keynote speech peppered with more partisan shots than he usually takes as prime minister, Trudeau closed the convention and rallied his troops by praising their “energy and positivity,” and said the government and party supporters cannot relax now.

Trudeau touted the Liberals’ record of “real change” for people in lifting 400,000 children out of poverty, boosting seniors’ income security and supporting diversity, but he pointed to gaps exposed in long-term care, children who are at risk of “going hungry” because of the pandemic, and ongoing discrimination, “inequity and injustice” revealed during the crisis of the last year.

“There’s still work to do,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau spoke from a studio livestreamed to an online audience as a few dozen delegates were projected on a big screen in front of him. He said they faced a “once-in-a-generation moment to build the kind of tomorrow we all want to see.”

The Liberal leader took square aim at Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and his party, saying he delivers different messages in different parts of the country, and is “unable to grasp” what needs to be done to meet the real needs of people.

Conservatives, said Trudeau, would have cut CERB amid the country’s worst economic crisis, viewed young people as lazy for having no summer job in a pandemic, “flirted with disinformation on public health and vaccines,” and deny climate change is real “even as people’s basements flood and wildfires tear though communities.”

“How disconnected do you have to be?” Trudeau asked in each instance.

Trudeau took shots at the Bloc Québécois, his main opponent for votes in Quebec, saying it only seeks to create divisions, while the Liberals “deliver” for Quebeckers.

He did not name the Liberals’ other opponents for progressive votes, the NDP and Greens, but urged supporters to reach out to those who had a “a blue, or orange, or green lawn sign” to enlist the disenchanted.

“This team is focused on solutions to the challenges we face, from health to jobs, from human rights to the environment,” Trudeau said.

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But the Liberal convention showed most grassroots Liberals would like the federal government to move faster in many of those areas.

Delegates passed policy resolutions that are not binding on the government, but that called on it to implement a universal basic income, enforceable national standards for long-term care homes, a national pharmacare program – all policies the Trudeau government has cooled to — and a 10-year “national mobilization” plan to implement a “green new deal” to achieve the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

They voted for faster action on the recommendations from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, and for a 10-per-cent increase in old age security for those 70 and over, more money for affordable housing, a trans-Canada high-speed rail line, expanded access to high-speed Internet, and more legal protections for whistleblowers.

Only a handful of resolutions that made it through a year-long process of vetting and prioritization were ultimately rejected by the grassroots.

Among those Liberals voted down: wealth taxes, including a tax on inherited assets over $2 million and a reduction of the capital gains tax exemption by 40 per cent; forgiveness of student loans through volunteer work (which some feared would make unpaid work mandatory); and a resolution to address systemic barriers to diversity and inclusion which some argued didn’t go far enough. And the Liberals decided against a resolution which called for retraining and relocation support for displaced energy workers because it also called for an end to government support for nuclear energy. Delegates argued small modular nuclear reactors are part of the clean energy solution.

Trudeau made no promises, but said “we are integrating these ideas into our plan.”

As the convention neared its end, party president Suzanne Cowan said “we don’t know when” the next federal election will be but “we have the plan that is needed right now.”

The Liberals named their national campaign co-chairs, former industry minister Navdeep Bains and regional economic development minister Mélanie Joly, who issued a plea to women to sign up to run for the party. The Liberals have named 133 candidates to date.

“We won’t cede any ground,” said Cowan. “We are the progressive movement in Canada.”

However, with the New Democrat convention going on at the same time, there were duelling claims to that political turf.

B.C. Premier John Horgan in a speech to the federal NDP said, “Let’s say to those parties that like to campaign as New Democrats, ‘Get out of the way, we’re already here.’ ”

And NDP MP Charlie Angus issued a statement mocking the Liberals’ star endorsement from Carney.

“The Liberals are turning to a banker to save the party brand. Carney is just the latest in a long list of patrician white millionaires who supposedly know best. The NDP convention is focused on building a base among Canadians who are fed up and want to see change that will actually be delivered,” he said.

The Liberals promised that more change is coming. In a just over a week, the Trudeau government will introduce its first budget of its second mandate.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has said the Liberals plan $100 billion in stimulus spending over three years.

At the convention Freeland emphasized the “political opportunity presented by the pandemic” to build a bold national child care program to ensure women’s greater labour force participation.

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