HALIFAX — Justin Trudeau unleashed a blistering attack on Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives Saturday, in a partisan stemwinder aimed at firing up Liberal troops as they prepare for a federal election next year.
The prime minister's speech at the ruling party's national convention had all the hallmarks of an election rally, complete with a boom camera swooping around the room to capture the rapturous response of some 3,000 boisterous, cheering, placard-waving Liberals — footage that seems destined to show up in a future campaign ad.
And Trudeau made it clear the speech is a harbinger of things to come when the 2019 campaign does kick off, saying he intends to aggressively defend his government's record and attack what he termed the "politics of fear and division" practised by his opponents.
The Conservatives, Trudeau charged, have learned nothing from their 2015 defeat and are continuing with the same negative tactics and divisive policies that characterized their government under Stephen Harper. He noted that Tory leader Andrew Scheer has dubbed himself "Stephen Harper with a smile" — indicating it was Harper's temperament that caused the Tory defeat.
"No, my friends, Stephen Harper's personal disposition didn't fail Canada. His policies did," Trudeau said.
"And if there's one thing — and there may be only one thing — we've learned about the Conservative party under Mr. Scheer's leadership, it's this: It may be Andrew Scheer's smile. But it's still Stephen Harper's party.
"The same policies. The same politics of fear and division."
Trudeau cited what he called the Conservatives' refusal to tackle climate change, their opposition to the Liberal government's tax changes and Scheer's leadership platform proposal to soften Canada's gun laws.
Despite his harsh assessment of Scheer and the Tories, Trudeau maintained that's not inconsistent with his commitment to practise a more positive form of politics. He recounted how he refused to join the Conservatives "in the gutter" when they spent millions during the 2015 campaign to run personal attack ads depicting him as nothing more than a lightweight with nice hair.
"Sunny ways, my friends. Sunny ways," Trudeau said, repeating his mantra from the 2015 campaign.
"Positive politics means you fight for your ideas, you don't demonize your opponents."
Trudeau even went out of his way to repeat a line he first used in 2014: "Canadians who voted Conservative are not our enemies; they're our neighbours. We will fight for Canadians — all Canadians."
Speaking to reporters later, Trudeau spelled out where he draws the line between positive and negative political campaigning.
"I will always be very, very clear and unapologetic about where I disagree on policy, and on the choice to divide Canadians or play up the politics of fear or anger. But I won't engage in personal attacks," he said.
For instance, Trudeau said he "will not shy away" from highlighting that the Conservatives oppose his government's "common sense gun laws," while Scheer proposed during the Tory leadership race to allow larger magazines.
"These are the kinds of things that it is important to bring up so that Canadians can make informed choices when they get to the ballot box next year," he said.
Earlier on HuffPost Canada: