OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won’t lean on divisive issues to score votes in this year’s election.
“I’m not going to be looking for wedge issues. I’m not going to be looking for ways to play off one region against another for immediate gain,” Trudeau told The Intelligence, a podcast produced by The Economist.
“I don’t want this election to be polarized. I’m going to make sharp contrasts with the policy positions of my opponents, but I’m not going to go around insulting voters who won’t vote for me.”
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The interview, recorded last month, was published Wednesday. It focused on the perception that Canada stands alone as a vanguard against a rising tide of populism.
“I think in certain extents this is going to be a polarized election in terms of some of the rhetoric that flies around,” he said before pledging that he will be working “very, very hard to make sure that Canadians themselves aren’t overly polarized.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to offer a definition for what is or isn’t a wedge issue.
Immigration shaping up to be wedge issue, again
Trudeau has previously criticized Conservatives for using hot button issues, such as immigration, to galvanize voters and expand their base.
He told the Canadian Press last year: “The decision that the Conservatives have taken recently to, for example, go after the global compact on migration in a way that is deliberately and knowingly spreading falsehoods for short-term political gain and to drum up anxiety around immigration is irresponsible, is not the way we should be moving forward in a thoughtful way on one of the big issues that is facing our country.”
The global compact for migration is a non-legally binding United Nations agreement on international migration. Of the 193 UN members, Canada was one of 164 countries that agreed to approve the policy framework.
But the Liberals have also been admonished for using women’s rights, specifically access to abotions, to, as the prime minister puts it, draw “sharp contrasts” between his party and Conservatives.
In a Liberal fundraising email in May, the party accused Conservatives of wanting to reopen the abortion debate. The campaign was launched shortly after the appearance of 12 Conservative MPs at an anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill.
“While these Conservative MPs have been busy working to roll back women’s rights, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal team are focused on making real progress for women and all Canadians,” the email read.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer responded by saying he won’t revisit the abortion debate. The Liberals are attempting to “import a divisive issue from the United States to spread fear and engage in fear-mongering here to distract from their record,” he said.
There’s been renewed attention on abortions since a spate of U.S. states passed laws restricting access to the procedure.
Liberal ministers have since continued to draw attention to the issue in Canada with open letters.
Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson Matt Pascuzzo told HuffPost that whenever the government has broached the topic of abortion, the message has been “fairly consistent” and “in the context of protecting women’s rights.”
Abortion isn’t a wedge issue, he said, calling it a topic that everybody is capable of discussing “in a respectful way” without turning it into a debate about what a woman is allowed to do with her body.
“It’s a little bit conflicting when on one hand you say, no we’re not going to reopen the debate, but yet members of your caucus are at events where they’re promoting anti-choice and pro-life,” he said about the Conservative leader’s stance on the issue.
Canadians should continue to expect the Liberal government to call out factions of the Conservative base who appear to be “geared toward rolling back women’s rights,” he said.
Trudeau focuses on Ford
In a speech to Liberal candidates gathered in Ottawa Wednesday, Trudeau charged that a Conservative government would mean cuts to health, municipalities, child care and “the services Canadians rely on most.”
As has become customary, he threw in a dig at the premier of vote-rich, battleground Ontario, saying the middle class can’t “afford another Doug Ford.”
Trudeau also told his troops that Tories are engaging in the “politics of fear and division” with “personal” attack ads and “smear campaigns.” He said the tactic is right from the “playbook” of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
“That’s what you do when you don’t have a real plan for the future. They throw mud at their opponents, and hope we join them in the gutter,” he said. “And when we refuse to stoop to their level, they label us as naive.”
With files from Ryan Maloney