It appears that in the battle for Canada's progressive vote, New Democrats and Liberals have settled on lines of attack.
The NDP is busily painting Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as a flip-flopper who is incapable of thinking for himself.
Liberals are projecting NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair as a politician who will say anything to win the big prize.
Meanwhile, both parties are telling Canadians they are running positive, optimistic campaigns. And, according to one poll at least, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are on the rise.
On Thursday, just hours before a French-language leaders' debate in Montreal, those following along at home got two examples of how the NDP-Liberal battle is heating up.
The NDP launched a new website — Trudeau Vs. Trudeau — where visitors can take a "quiz" on the Liberal leader's positions on the federal minimum wage, the Bill C-51 anti-terror bill, small business taxes, electoral reform, balanced budgets, and other issues.
For example, on C-51 — which the Liberals supported and the NDP opposed — the quiz asks: "Where does Trudeau stand on Harper's controversial surveillance bill, C-51?"
The four possible answers are:
- Said he opposes the bill
- Voted for the bill
- Said it's a great example of what government can do
- All of the above.
Spoiler: The "correct" answer to that question — and all others — is "all of the above."
"Maybe you've noticed a trend here. Justin Trudeau can't make up his mind," the site reads at the end of the test. "If Trudeau changes so many of his principles before Election Day, which ones will he change after?"
That fit the theme of a "throwback Thursday" tweet from the party last week on the issue of corporate taxes.
Not to be outdone, Liberals have released a cheeky 17-second video online warning of some "conditions" that may apply to signature NDP campaign pledges, namely its plans for $15-a-day child care and a $15 federal minimum wage.
"Promises may be different in English than in French," a narrator says at the end, referencing the common Grit attack that Mulcair takes different positions depending on what part of the country he's in.
Mulcair is selling big promises, but more than a few conditions may apply...September 24, 2015
In recent days, Trudeau's team has also brought a number of old Mulcair moments to the surface, particularly from his time as Quebec's environment minister.
When the NDP leader campaigned in Newfoundland and Labrador last weekend, a Liberal candidate called for him to apologize for a "Newfie" remark he made in Quebec's National Assembly in 1996. The NDP leader told reporters Sunday the quip was a mistake he made "in the heat of debate 20 years ago."
On Wednesday, Liberals released a clip of Mulcair arguing in French in 2000 that Quebec's daycare program "eats up more money in pure structural loss that cannot be justified in enhanced services to the public." The NDP's current proposal for $15-a-day daycare is modelled closely on Quebec's system.
And on Thursday, Grits released another video of a speech Mulcair gave in Washington two years ago, endorsing moving petroleum products from "west to east" and getting it to "tidewater quickly there."
Sparring over proposed pipeline positions
Liberals have accused the NDP of playing down the proposed Energy East pipeline in Quebec while at the same time suggesting they are open to the project in Western Canada.
But Liberals have faced the same allegations from Conservatives who argue that Trudeau leaves voters in New Brunswick with the impression he supports Energy East, while playing coy elsewhere.
Both Mulcair and Trudeau said positive things about the Energy East proposal in the past. The Bloc Quebecois vehemently opposes the project.
But Mulcair and Trudeau have also accused the Tories of gutting Canada's environmental laws and leaving the country without a credible assessment process for pipeline projects.
At last week's leaders' debate in Calgary, Mulcair said Harper has failed to bring public on side when it comes to pipelines.
"Under Stephen Harper's stewardship we have not built one kilometre of pipeline to tidewater," he said.
Academic dragged into NDP-Liberal battle
Things took a particularly strange turn this week when an economics professor's name was included in an NDP release targeting Trudeau.
Kevin Milligan, who teaches at the University of British Columbia, also serves on the Liberal Party's council of economic advisers. According to his disclosure, Milligan provides the party with non-partisan advice on economic matters, and receives no compensation for the role.
But a controversial study he co-authored with other university researchers, made public Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, took a closer look at public daycare — a key aspect of the NDP platform.
The paper concluded that children in Quebec's low-cost child-care system were more likely to have worse results later in life when it comes to health, life satisfaction and crime rates.
The NDP sent out a release Wednesday wanting to know if Trudeau thinks public child-care turns kids into criminals.
"Did Mr. Trudeau push this study by his advisor in order to distract from his own lack of leadership and refusal to deliver a concrete plan that will help hard-working middle-class families and their kids?" the release asked.
Some economists and academics took to Twitter to criticize the move.
When asked for a comment by the Huffington Post Canada, Milligan — who defended his study in Maclean's — pointed to his own tweets on the matter.
A few quick thoughts on childcare this morning. I've written an explainer of my coauthored new paper here: http://t.co/t4QQwxV8OS— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) September 23, 2015
We started on this paper in December 2013. We had hoped to get it out last spring, but we decided to dig deeper on the data.— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) September 23, 2015
It came out now because it was ready to be submitted to a journal. Economists post ‘working paper' versions when they submit to a journal.— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) September 23, 2015
I neither sought nor desired media coverage of this working paper. The NBER distributes a list of new WPs each Monday. Ours was included.— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) September 23, 2015
I prefer to ‘publicize' my research after peer review. But how to square dissemination of WP's for comment with internet instant analysis?— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) September 23, 2015
I have acted as an occassional technical advisor on tax and fiscal matters to the LPC this elxn cycle. Not on childcare matters.— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) September 23, 2015
A great thing about this LPC team is they aren't afraid to make use of expertise—in foreign affairs, econ, poli sci. I hope that continues.— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) September 23, 2015
Tim Howlett, issue coordinator for the federal NDP, was evidently unconvinced.
With files from The Canadian Press
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