WATERLOO, Ont. — The Liberals courted the traditional NDP vote Tuesday, criticizing that party's insistence on balancing the books and promising unions $750 million for skilled trades funding.
Party leader Justin Trudeau addressed a local plumber and pipefitter's union, saying he would give $500 million to the provinces while spending another $200 million on training for workers who can't get federal training.
Another $50 million in the Liberal plan would go to help aboriginal people improve their skills and job prospects. The money is part of a previous $2 billion employment announcement Trudeau made a week ago in New Brunswick.
He accused Conservative Leader Stephen Harper of being out of touch with the concerns of workers and said his announcement Tuesday would undo the damage caused by cuts to labour market agreements last year.
"You've seen your personal debt rising as your job prospects sink. You want to seek out better opportunities but you can't access the training you need," Trudeau told supporters and apprentices at the shop within eyeshot of the local Conservative candidate's campaign headquarters.
"Stephen Harper doesn't know what that's like. When he was first elected, Windows 95 was still two years away ... (and) the cutting-edge way to apply for a job was to send in your resume by fax."
Trudeau also said his party's resolve to strengthen the middle class — rather than balance the books immediately — is a testament to the Liberal commitment to workers' rights.
"Labour movements in this country are an essential part of that — part of fighting for good wages for Canadians," Trudeau said, adding Canada needs to invest in workers and businesses. "That's what unions are asking for and that's what the Liberal party is delivering, not the NDP."
The NDP dismissed the announcement as a "repackaging of previously announced funds" and said only a "tiny part" of the funding will actually directly support skilled trades. The party also questioned the Liberal commitment to labour issues, saying its MPs have routinely voted against bills in the House that would benefit workers.
But the Liberal promise to boost vocational training was cautiously welcomed by some local pipefitters.
Adam Goodwin, a 30-year-old from Kitchener-Waterloo, said he hasn't followed the election campaign closely but likes the idea of more money for training.
The former truck driver started training as a plumber six months ago but said it's hard to support a family at the same time. But above all, Goodwin said he's looking for "honesty."
"And helping out the smaller guys like us."
Ray Lemieux, training co-ordinator for the local union, said anyone who wants to lead the country should be planning ahead rather than waiting for the next skilled trades shortage.
"You're always looking for some funding to help with the development of our youth," he said.
Trudeau made the announcement in a riding where the Liberals lost to the Conservatives by only a handful of votes in 2008 and finished a close second in 2011.
The Liberal leader had accused Harper of posting a surprise $1.9 billion budget surplus thanks to cuts to First Nations and veterans programs but backtracked slightly on Tuesday.
"We won't find out exactly was unspent until after this election," said Trudeau, adding Harper has historically underspent in those areas. "He makes commitments to veterans and First Nations and then doesn't keep those promises so he can balance a paper budget in time for an election campaign."
He was also asked when the Liberals would provide a fully costed platform. He declined to address the question, pointing instead to his party's fiscal framework that he says shows Canadians where the Liberals would spend money.
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