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Liberals plan to stay on the ‘offensive’ after bumpy campaign launch, sagging poll numbers


Liberals plan to stay on the ‘offensive’ after bumpy campaign launch, sagging poll numbers

OTTAWA—Amid falling poll numbers and a first week of campaigning widely seen as rocky, the Liberal campaign insists it’s on the right track.

The campaign will look to keep pushing out policy in the coming days they believe will present clear contrasts with their challengers, with one campaign source saying the party will stay on the “offensive” in targeting ridings they lost by slim margins in 2019.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was back in Ottawa Saturday, with his public schedule reading simply “private.”

The Conservative and New Democrat campaigns, meanwhile, continued to hold public events and hammered away on affordability issues — which have become a central theme in the early days of the campaign.

The Liberals’ down day capped a week where Trudeau was repeatedly asked to explain why he called a snap election, faced questions about the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and processed the provincial Liberals’ loss in Nova Scotia.

But two Liberal campaign sources pushed back on the idea the party needs to reset the election narrative or regain the initiative after a perceived lacklustre performance in the first week.

“Stay tuned for the coming days, because I think there will be a lot more that (Trudeau) and the party will have on offer that will be in tune with some of the big thinking that we brought to the fore not just over the last few days but the past number of months,” said one source, who agreed to discuss strategy on the condition they not be named.

“The policies and proposals and ideas, there will be some pretty clear contrasts (with other parties).”

The source pointed to Trudeau’s announcement Thursday to inject $9 billion more into provincially regulated long-term-care facilities as a substantive promise in the early days of the campaign.

Trudeau’s campaign stops in the first week of the campaign have been heavily weighted to ridings that the party took in 2015 but lost in 2019, when they were bumped down to a minority government.

But public polling has proved problematic for the party in the opening days of the campaign, putting their push to regain a majority in peril. While they enjoyed a wide lead over the Conservatives nationally for weeks heading into the campaign, that lead has diminished significantly.

According to the latest aggregate data from The Signal from Vox Pop Labs, the Liberals are at 33.6 per cent nationally — potentially enough to retain a minority government — with the Conservatives polling at 31.4 per cent and the NDP at 22 per cent.

Vox Pop Labs generates their forecast through a model that examines public polling going back to 2009, and analyzing how the predictions compared with actual election results.

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Their model currently has the New Democrats sitting at 23.6 per cent in Ontario, which Vox Pop Labs projects could mean the NDP winning between 10 and 25 ridings in Canada’s most populous province.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in Toronto Saturday to talk housing affordability — an issue New Democrats hope will resonate with young Canadians being squeezed out of housing markets, especially in Canada’s largest cities.

“We want to tackle this housing crisis in a serious way. We want to build more affordable homes, we want to build half a million new homes that are within people’s budgets within people’s budgets within the next 10 years,” Singh told reporters at a campaign stop in Spadina—Fort York, where candidate Norm Di Pasquale is hoping to win back the riding for the New Democrats.

The NDP is committing to lift the GST on building affordable homes, and to help non-profits, rather than developers, buy properties.

Asked if he’s concerned his proposals will scare away developers — including those who propose to build affordable housing — Singh said he hoped they will.

“If someone wants to make profits off the backs of Canadians, and wants to exploit our housing market … yeah, I don’t want them to come into Canada,” Singh said. “I want people in Canada to be able to find a home they can afford.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, on a swing through his party’s western heartland, highlighted his pledge to boost disability supports for Canadians. The party is committing to doubling disability supplements through the Canada’s Worker Benefit from $713 to $1,500 a year.

“The more people hear our plan and learn about Canada’s Recovery Plan, they’re going to realize that we need to get moving forward and Conservatives are offering a positive vision for that,” O’Toole said.

Both the New Democrats and the Conservatives released their full platforms — albeit without costing estimates from the Parliamentary Budget Office, expected later in the campaign — in the early days of the campaign.

That’s a break from previous campaigns, when parties have preferred to release their pitch to voters in a piecemeal fashion leading up to election day. But the early release gives the parties more time to highlight their policies — particularly when the Liberals have had significant time, over the course of the pandemic, to talk about how they intend to support Canadians.

The Star reported Wednesday that the Liberals’ platform is still under development, but is expected to be released before the first official federal leaders’ debate on Sept. 8. That could be an attempt to wait for Canadians to really start paying attention to the federal campaign, rather than releasing policy in the dog days of summer.

Trudeau is expected to resume his campaign Sunday. O’Toole is scheduled to make an announcement in British Columbia Sunday morning, and Singh will attend an event celebrating former NDP leader Jack Layton’s legacy on the 10-year anniversary of his death.

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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