By SUNIL RAO
Let Stephen Harper and his Tories continue their snide attacks on Justin Trudeau — it’s just water off a duck’s back, as far as Trudeau is concerned.
Even if Liberal Party leader Trudeau only stands third in the current pecking order on Parliament Hill — and even as Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair has had an excellent showing in recent months, repeatedly drawing blood with his rapier-like attacks on the PMO, as the Senate scandal continues to rock parliament — the Conservatives spearheaded by Prime Minister Harper have demonstrated they’re actually more scared of Trudeau, continuously baiting him and putting him down at every opportunity.
The latest was being disparaged as a “Canadian Idol”, and even being accused of “sexism” after attending a ladies-only fundraiser.
But Trudeau’s unconcerned. “Let them target me, while I focus on engaging with Canadians,” he told SAF in an exclusive interview last week.
Wherever Trudeau goes — and despite the political pundits noting he’s particularly prone to pratfalls — the charismatic Liberal leader is instantly mobbed by an adoring public.
That vaunted charisma was much in evidence at his Richmond Hill event, as he himself sought to spread his message of unity, and hope, for all Canadians — as opposed to Harper’s own style.
There too Trudeau was instantly mobbed. But his handlers did promise SAF an exclusive interview later.
Trudeau and his crew were as good as their word: on his next trip to the GTA, Trudeau came calling for a lengthier, more relaxed, exclusive telephonic interview with SAF.
This is the first of a two-part interview. Excerpts:
The Liberals are known as the party of immigrants — who however deserted you at the last federal elections, for the Conservatives. How do you propose to attract them back to your fold?
It’s certainly a challenge — and the challenge is to not only win the Indo-Canadian community vote, or any group’s vote, but to win back everyone, all Canadians.
As recently as in the year 2000, the Liberal Party had more than 170 MPs in Parliament. Since then however, we’ve seen our total number of seats drop steadily, to 135, to 100 and, today, to fewer than 35.
The Liberal Party has understood finally that we need to build a bridge with Canadians — all Canadians. We need to meet with them, and re-engage them.
And to your specific question: we are also the only party to understand that immigration is the primary driver of Canada’s well-being, into the future as well.
What are the top three policy measures you aim to implement to offer a level of comfort to immigrants, and to newcomers?
Firstly, a focus on family, and on family reunification. The Conservatives look primarily for newcomers as good workers. We ourselves know immigrants are more than just workers, they’re community builders. And yes, grandparents too are integral to building a strong community.
Secondly, we’ll invest more in our immigration system, and in enabling immigrants. While this (Harper) government continues to slash budgets, we will for instance ensure there are enough case workers, to process files, etc.
Thirdly, this (Harper) government is focused on crime, and on characterizing refugees as criminals — so much so that it’s driving a wedge between us Canadians, and that isn’t good for our country’s unity. Our government will seek to turn around this unhealthy trend.
The Liberals have been enjoying a surge in the polling numbers, and the Trudeau brand in particular has been heading this surge — even as the Conservatives’, and Stephen Harper’s numbers are at a low. And even despite Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair’s superb showing in recent weeks, in light of the Senate scandal and other Ottawa shenanigans, Harper still seems to be singling you out for his attacks, so it’s you it seems he’s more afraid of. But how will you keep this momentum going until 2015?
A big piece of this is understanding what this momentum is all about. Personally, I’m not too influenced by polls, but believe more in speaking directly to Canadians and hearing what they say.
This party isn’t focused on negative attacks, we’re more a party of unity, and of hope for the future.
We have extraordinary work ahead — and in this, we want all Canadians to work hard with us, to build a stronger, more successful Canada.
Elections are generally fought on the economy. What will be your top three economic pillars? And will you be willing to also tackle such issues as education, skills training, auto insurance — all kitchen-table issues, but under provincial jurisdiction?
First and foremost, the (Harper) government needs to recognize these pressures. And we at the federal level need to work with the provinces. But as this government has demonstrated, it is incapable of working with other levels of government.
Healthcare, education and skills training, infrastructure for municipalities — all are huge challenges. And at bottom, we’re supposed to be serving the same people.
To be continued
By SUNIL RAO