From a raucous hockey arena in southern Ontario to an oceanside Nunavut lookout, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spent the second-last week of the campaign staying carefully within the lines of his upbeat strategy.
“My friends, this is Canada,” he orated from one end of the country to the other. “Better is always possible!”
The week kicked off with what the party billed as the “biggest political rally in a generation.”
And it was impressive. The parking lot of a hockey arena in Brampton, Ont., was teeming with school buses while inside, more than 5,000 enthusiastic supporters cheered and applauded a clearly fired-up leader.
The tour then hit the road through vote-rich southern Ontario.
Trudeau dressed a pizza in Etobicoke in the west end of Toronto. He made a donation to a Goodwill in London. He played barista in Oakville — even though he doesn’t drink coffee.
On into Quebec, where he visited more small-town java lovers. He burnished his hipster cred in Toronto with an open-mike session hosted by Vice magazine.
In Sussex, N.B., more than a hundred crowded a historic train station to hear him speak in a riding — Fundy Royal — where locals said Liberals haven’t drawn more than flies in a generation.
There was no denying his star power. The gregarious Trudeau routinely spent more time shaking hands, greeting people and taking innumerable selfies than he did speaking.
Many showed up with memorabilia from his father’s political career — campaign buttons, or in the case of one former riding association president in Sherbrooke, Que., a set of Christmas cards and family snaps from Pierre Elliott Trudeau going back to the ’70s.
In Iqaluit, Nunavut, an Inuit elder told the crowd in Inuktitut how she remembered Justin as a boy, coming North with his dad.
Throughout, Trudeau stuck closely to the script. Give the middle class a better tax deal. Lift children out of poverty with a federal cheque. Let hope defeat fear; hard work triumph over cynicism.
Conservatives, he said, “(Are) not our enemies. They’re our neighbours.”
Even the signing of a huge trade deal — the Trans-Pacific Partnership — failed to cloud the sun and bump him off message.
Repeated questioning from reporters failed to elicit anything more specific than assertions that his party is pro-trade. A pledge to deal with the pact later in the House of Commons was presented as restoring the importance of Parliament instead of a dodge.
Over and over he emphasized the importance of infrastructure investment. But what investment, he wouldn’t say.
In Nunavut, where housing and harbours are obvious and long-standing territorial concerns, specifics were not on offer. Those decisions, said Trudeau, are best made by locals.
Climate change? We’ll work something out with the provinces, he said, praising British Columbia’s carbon tax, Alberta’s intensity-based emissions rules and the cap-and-trade system of Ontario and Quebec, despite the fact those approaches are radically different.
It took the campaign’s nasty turn to identity politics to sharpen Trudeau’s edge.
Questioned on Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s musings about banning the niqab for public servants, Trudeau snapped, “No election win is worth pitting Canadians against Canadians.”
He had one word upon hearing news that non-Muslim Syrian refugees may have had an easier ride into Canada than equally desperate Muslims: “Disgusting.”
But the week ended on a more typical upbeat note. Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire chatted up roomful of supporters in Iqaluit at a community feast of caribou, char, seal and narwhal while their 19-month-old son Hadrian charmed everyone in sight.
Look for more of the same, because it may be working, polls suggest.
The leader once dismissed as barely capable of showing up to a debate with his pants on is now the presumed front-runner.
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press