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Trudeau and Scheer attack Ford and Wynne in battle for bountiful Ontario

Last Updated Sep 23, 2019 at 12:40 pm EST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario leaders — old and current — were pinned firmly in the crosshairs of Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer’s federal battle Monday for the vote-rich province that represents the gateway to victory.

Trudeau fired the first shot, telling its voters not to “double down” on a Conservative government after they elected Doug Ford as premier. Trudeau used a new promise of a national pharmacare program to portray Scheer as a faithful Ford follower who won’t defend people’s interests in fighting for better access to doctors, drugs or mental health counsellors.

Scheer, meanwhile, evoked the vanquished Ontario Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, and her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, linking her political demise to a federal leader he branded as corrupt and incapable of telling the truth. Scheer promised to make it cheaper for Canadians to buy a home, pledging to resurrect 30-year mortgages and ease the so-called stress test on new-home borrowing, while accusing Trudeau of digging Canadians deeper into debt.

Scheer and Trudeau were trying to plunder the bountiful crop of Ontario votes by campaigning in the densely populated communities around Toronto and the rest of the so-called Golden Horseshoe.

In Hamilton, Trudeau erected a virtual troika of Conservative bogeymen after last week’s shocking blackface controversy in which his brand, and his re-election chances, took a major hit with the emergence of images of him in black or brown makeup at costume events before he entered politics.

On Monday, he positioned himself as a defender of public health who will stand against Conservative cost-cutting, mentioning Ford by name at least a dozen times.

“The question becomes for Canadians: who do you want negotiating with Doug Ford when it comes to your health?” Trudeau said.

The Liberal leader repeated that line, using it as a mantra to frame himself as the best defender of Canada’s sacrosanct public health-care system.

“That is the choice people are facing: whether we continue to move forward, or we go back to the Harper years by doubling down on Conservatives who believe in cuts,” Trudeau said, deriding a “trickle down” economics approach of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who Trudeau said had “failed” Canadians.

In in the suburban community of Vaughan, Ont., Scheer deflected questions about his affiliation with Ford by lampooning Trudeau’s focus on other Conservative leaders.

“The real question is: What’s the difference between Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau? The very same people who are the architects of the failed Kathleen Wynne/Dalton McGuinty government that raised taxes, ran massive deficits, mired in scandal and corruptions are now working for Justin Trudeau, and they’re following the same playbook,” said Scheer.

“So voters in Ontario know that they can limit the damage from Justin Trudeau to one term.”

Scheer said he is committed to increasing transfer payments to the provinces for health care and education to three per cent.

“I am ready to run against Justin Trudeau. I am holding Justin Trudeau to account. And he is desperate to run against anybody other than me,” he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Leader Elizabeth May are taking their undercard battle to Atlantic Canada. In Bathurst, N.B., Singh was forced address criticism that he has forgotten that province by never visiting, amid a summer controversy that some NDP candidates switched to the Greens.

Former NDP MP Yvon Godin, who held Acadie-Bathurst for about 18 years before the Liberals took it in the 2015 election, told the CBC in August he was concerned about Singh’s inattention to the province.

“I’m really sorry,” Singh said Monday as he introduced Daniel Theriault as the candidate in Godin’s old riding. “I’m sorry I didn’t get here earlier. I’m happy to be here. I’m honoured to be here and it’s a beautiful place.”

May was scheduled to make an announcement in Fredericton.

Monday was Trudeau’s second straight day courting suburban family voters; he spent Sunday in Brampton, Ont., promising the picket-fence crowd a big-ticket tax cut worth billions and a 25 per cent reduction in their cellphone bills.

Scheer was in Prince Edward Island on Sunday, where he pledged to veterans to personally oversee efforts to reset the Conservative party’s relationship with Canada’s ex-soldiers.

With a file from Allison Jones