Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched an uncertain bid for reelection Wednesday as the scandal threatening his career cast its shadow over Day 1 of the campaign.
Trudeau called for the dissolution of Parliament and officially started the 40-day election season in which the party that wins control of the 338-seat House of Commons forms the next government.
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But the early campaign narrative was upended by a new article in The Globe and Mail newspaper that said police are investigating whether there was obstruction of justice after Trudeau and several senior members of his government pressed a former attorney general to drop corruption charges against an engineering company, SNC-Lavalin.
Even though the police are pausing their investigation until after the election on Oct. 21, Trudeau’s main rival, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, seized on the news as proof that Trudeau doesn’t deserve another term.
“He has lied. He has looked Canadians in the eye and said things he knew was not true. We made the case that he has lost the moral authority to govern,” Scheer said Wednesday morning before his first campaign event in Quebec, a key electoral battleground.
Trudeau, however, aims to run on the strong economic data that shows historically low unemployment, reduced poverty rates and several new trade agreements. His Liberal Party has also championed the legalization of marijuana and middle-class tax cuts.
“These are things that are making a real difference in people’s lives,” Trudeau said before he left to campaign in British Columbia.
“We’ve done a lot together these past four years. But the truth is, we’re just getting started. Canadians have an important choice to make: Will we go back to the failed policies of the past, or will we continue to move forward? That’s the choice.”
The new trade deals include the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. Trudeau alluded to President Donald Trump, saying the pact was achieved “at a time of U.S. protectionism and unpredictability.”
Trudeau’s campaign headed immediately to British Columbia for a rally beside the home district of a major player in the SNC-Lavalin scandal: His former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who clashed with Trudeau over the affair and quit his Cabinet, is seeking reelection in Vancouver as an Independent.
Trudeau also faces challenges to his left, the New Democratic and Green parties, which are hoping to rally votes by pushing for more controls on Canada’s large oil sector.
Neither of those parties has ever won a national election in Canada, but often damage the Liberals by winning votes for competitive seats. If neither the Liberals nor Conservatives secure a majority of the seats in Parliament, then the smaller parties could play a crucial role in propping up the government. Polls are too close to call, so there is a good chance of a minority government.
On Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attacked both Liberals and Conservatives for a tendency to side with corporate interests.
“We are committed to fighting the corporate interests and making sure the people’s needs are put first,” he said at a rally in Ontario.
The outcome of the election hinges on results in the three most populous provinces, holding the vast majority of electoral seats: Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
Scheer plans to attend an evening rally in suburban Toronto, which are also expected to be contentious. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May started her campaign in B.C.
Trudeau telegraphed how he intends to campaign in Ontario by linking his rival to the unpopular Conservative provincial premier there: Doug Ford, the brother of Rob Ford, the deceased former mayor of Toronto best known for his public struggle with substance abuse.
Trudeau alluded to budget cuts sprung on the people of Ontario after last year’s provincial election, where Ford campaigned successfully on the slogan, “For The People.”
The parties also will clash over at least two major policy differences: carbon taxes, and the price of pharmaceuticals. Trudeau has introduced a national carbon tax, which Scheer promises to scrap. The incumbent prime minister has also hinted that he intends to announce some sort of drug-coverage program during the campaign.
Trudeau mentioned Ford’s campaign slogan at least twice in his launch event Wednesday: “Conservatives like to say they’re for the people, but then they cut taxes for the wealthy, and cut services for everyone else,” Trudeau said.