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Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole sharpen attacks in battle for Ontario as tight campaign nears finish


Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole sharpen attacks in battle for Ontario as tight campaign nears finish

KITCHENER – The battle for hearts and minds in Monday’s election couldn’t be tighter as Liberal and Conservative party leaders bused all around southwestern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area over the weekend and made a last-ditch appeal for support.

The Star’s poll tracker, Vox Pop Labs, said the Liberals and Conservatives are now tied at 31.9 per cent of popular support, but gives a widening lead in seats to the Liberals, who’d take 155 – the exact same number they held when the election was called – to the Conservatives’ projected seat haul of 122. The NDP could increase their seat count to 35 and the Greens could get 2. The BQ would become the fourth party with 23 seats, and the People’s Party could take one.

As the race comes down to the wire, the attacks grew more pointed.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said it was “un-Canadian” for Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to call an election in the midst of a public health crisis, and vowed he would “never call an election in a health crisis.” He stopped well short of saying he wouldn’t trigger one in less than four years if the next government is a Liberal minority.

The Conservative leader’s tour stopped at candidate offices in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge region, where he hammered his five-week message about an “unnecessary” pandemic election, and laced it with a scathing attack on Trudeau’s “ego” and an election O’Toole called a mere “vanity project.”

As polls suggested the Conservative campaign is in trouble heading into Monday’s federal vote, the Conservative leader’s tour appeared to be on auto-pilot. There were no impromptu forays into public spaces like St. Jacob’s farmers’ market, the largest in Canada. O’Toole said he “ran by it” Saturday morning, but was focused on pumping his troops, many of whom seem deflated by headlines that the race may be slipping away from him after polls had earlier suggested a Conservative minority was within reach.

However O’Toole scarcely veered from his message, now amped up with more personal criticism of Trudeau.

“This pandemic election is vain, risky and selfish. In fact, it’s un-Canadian,” O’Toole said in prepared remarks at a campaign stop in the southern Ontario riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook.

“Still despite how it was called, there is a lot at stake in this election … In this environment, it’s understandable that people are looking for alternatives, looking to shake things up, looking to show that they’re tired of it all.”

“Make no mistake, voting for other parties that cannot win, no matter how aggrieved or angry you may feel, will not get Trudeau out.”

That point – that voters are angry and looking for alternatives – was a more or less explicit appeal to voters who have left the Conservative fold and parked their vote with Maxime Bernier’s insurgent People’s Party of Canada.

Throughout this region, purple PPC signs dot the grass in public spaces. A Conservative supporter at a rally for O’Toole at St. Catharines Friday night said he was surprised at the reach of Bernier’s party, and the voter anger showing up at doors.

But on O’Toole’s campaign, his senior staffers insist the mood is good, and they remain confident they can get out their vote.

They’ll have to.

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According to The Signal, Vox Pop Labs’ poll tracker for the Star, the PPC is pulling 6.5 per cent nationwide. Senior sources on the O’Toole campaign are adamant that it’s not just Conservative voters flocking to Bernier’s movement — but it’s clear a number of them are.

PPC support may not be enough to win Bernier seats. But it may be enough to deny Conservative seats in tight riding contests.

After an at-times vitriolic campaign, O’Toole acknowledged that a significant number of voters are angry, and he called that anger “justified.”

“But there is one way, and only one way, to send Justin Trudeau a message. Only one way to show him the door, and that is to vote Conservative on Monday,” O’Toole said.

Trudeau dashed around the GTA in a bid to motivate party workers and supporters on Saturday and made a point of going into a Conservative-held riding, where Leona Alleslev — a onetime Liberal MP who crossed the floor — is running.

The Liberals are bent on reclaiming the seat, and have poured money and campaign resources into it.

Trudeau stopped at Liberal candidate Leah Taylor Roy’s headquarters – his third event in 24 hours where she attended. There, about 100 volunteers crowded in the backyard to hear the Liberal leader and pose for pictures. Across the street there were four small purple-and-white PPC signs and three large “re-elect” Leona Alleslev.

One man showed up to protest, yelling: “This country is going to shit because of you Justin Trudeau …You’re going down on Monday.”

Trudeau then went to greet Liberal supporters and curious onlookers at the Newmarket Farmers Market.

An older man named Richard who refused to give his last name, stood at the edge of a large circle, with Conservative signs in his hand and was trying to get into the media’s shot.

“This time around more than anything else, it’s anybody but Justin,” Richard told The Star. “The scandal, the spending, the arrogance, c’mon.”

For the final three days of the campaign, O’Toole gave up on criss-crossing the country in his campaign plane, choosing instead to bus around the Golden Horseshoe and GTA, before he returns to his riding of Durham to vote and watch results Monday.

Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh however will be out west for one last sprint. Trudeau returns to Montreal for Election Day and Singh will land in British Columbia where he is running.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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