MONTREAL — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised new money for two big transit projects Thursday in Montreal and touted his plan to run deficits and spend on infrastructure ahead of Friday's leaders debate in Quebec.
Trudeau made the announcement in a province not unfamiliar with deficits, and tried to differentiate himself from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair as the only progressive option on the economy and spending stimulus.
"Mr. Mulcair made the wrong choice. He chose not to listen to what Canadians have been telling all of their leaders over the past year — that now is the time to invest, now is the time to grow our economy," Trudeau said at a forklift repair plant.
"He's put forward a plan (to balance the budget) based on Stephen Harper's framework."
Throughout the question-and-answer session with reporters, Trudeau frequently repeated the accusation that Mulcair made the wrong choice by promising to balance the budget — even while fielding a question on post-secondary tuition.
Trudeau's comments drew a sharp rebuke from Andrew Thomson, a former Saskatchewan finance minister running for the NDP in Eglinton-Lawrence in Toronto.
"Justin Trudeau's plan is based on broken promises, bad math and a $6.5 billion cut to services," Thomson said.
He said Trudeau promised in August to spend $5.8 billion on transit over four years, but when he released his fiscal plan, he'd cut $150 million from that.
"If he's breaking these kinds of promises before election day, imagine what he'll do after."
Trudeau's Liberals are trying to gain traction in Quebec, after securing a handful of seats in the last election. With the NDP and Liberals both trying to convince voters they are the alternative to the Conservatives, Trudeau has been playing up his pitch that only the Liberal spending plan will boost the economy.
The NDP and Conservatives have also promised infrastructure spending, however, and accuse Trudeau of making spending promises that exceed his deficit allowance.
He made the announcement in the riding of Lac-Saint-Louis, a longtime Liberal bastion on Montreal's West Island and one of the few seats considered safe.
His promise Thursday was to help fund a rapid transit system to the area, as well as a light-rail project on the Champlain Bridge, which connects Montreal to the suburban South Shore. A Liberal government would spend $20 billion on transit infrastructure alone over 10 years across the country, he said.
But while the economy appeared to be top of mind at the start of the election campaign, discussion has often diverted to questions of Canadian identity — whether women should be allowed to wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies and whether Canadians with dual citizenship should lose their Canadian one if convicted of terrorism.
The Bloc Quebecois has run ads attacking Mulcair that portray a woman wearing a niqab. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper got a loud round of applause from supporters Wednesday in Montreal when he pledged to legislate a ban on wearing face veils during citizenship ceremonies.
Trudeau blamed the other parties for the focus on identity issues.
"Our opponents are falling down into identity politics — the politics of fear, the politics of division, the politics of personal attack."
"If my opponents want to try to distract people so that Canadians don't realize they have no plan for economic growth and no change to offer Canadians...then I find they're missing the mark," he added in French.
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