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Liberals find anti-Trudeau sentiment on campaign trail in Prince Edward Island

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  • OTTAWA — When voters in Prince Edward Island go to the polls next week, they’ll be making their choice without any input from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

    Even though polls suggest Wade MacLauchlan’s governing Liberals will need all the help they can get to stay in power, sources close to the campaign say they haven’t reached out to their federal colleagues for support — a sign Trudeau’s one-time rock-star status on the island has become a political liability.

    In the past, Trudeau was always a popular visitor on the island, both as Liberal leader and as prime minister. His public events typically attracted large crowds of supporters keen for a selfie or a handshake.

    But as candidates knock on doors in advance of Tuesday’s election, the voters who answer feel the need to vent about the prime minister, say campaign workers and insiders — Liberals and Conservatives alike — who spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss the state of play on the island.

    Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Tuesday that no one in the provincial Liberal camp has requested a campaign visit from Trudeau, and no travel to the island is scheduled.

    “It would be crazy,” said one senior P.E.I. Liberal operative. “We wouldn’t want them here.”

    Tuesday’s trip to the ballot box promises to cap one of the most interesting races that voters in Canada’s smallest province have seen in recent memory, thanks to a dramatic spike in support for the Green party that has altered the political landscape, mainly in the island’s central ridings.

    One poll released ahead of the snap March 26 election call suggested the Greens were leading the Progressive Conservatives, headed by leader Dennis King, who’s only had the job since early February. The Liberals, who have been in power for the last 12 years, were languishing in third.

    When Trudeau was last in the province in the weeks prior to the election call, he made a jobs announcement and attended a Liberal fundraiser. But a small group of protesters also showed up — a common feature of the prime minister’s public events elsewhere in Canada, but a rarity for Trudeau in P.E.I.

    “Before, when Trudeau came to town, it was bedlam because people were so excited when he was around,” said Don Desserud, political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, who described him as an asset to his party over the first three years of his mandate.

    “It’s only this last year that has shifted, and I do think it’s absolutely telling that the Liberals (in P.E.I.) have not invited him and, it appears, would not see him as an asset here at all.”

    PMO officials have said Trudeau prefers to steer clear of provincial campaigns, although he did lend his support to a provincial byelection effort in Ontario in 2016. And he visited P.E.I. on behalf of MacLauchlan’s Liberals in 2015, before becoming prime minister.

    His reversal of fortune appears to be at least partly the result of the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

    For months, Trudeau has been fending off persistent questions about allegations from former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that he and others in the PMO tried to interfere for political reasons in a criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering firm related to its dealings in Libya. Trudeau and his officials have steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

    But since voters don’t often draw a distinction between federal and provincial parties of the same name, canvassing voters during the campaign — especially at the outset, when the SNC fervour was most pitched — has often been uncomfortable for Island Liberals.

    Some voters in P.E.I. have expressed anger and frustration with how Trudeau and his government have handled the affair, while others are just disappointed with his record as prime minister, say Liberals and Conservatives alike.

    This rise in anti-Trudeau sentiment is not only manifesting in P.E.I., but also across Atlantic Canada, said Donald Savoie, Canada research chair in public administration at the University of Moncton.

    “It’s pretty clear to me and to many Atlantic Canadians that (the Liberals) are facing some pretty strong headwinds,” Savoie said.

    He pointed to episodes over the last few years that some voters see as Atlantic Canada getting short shrift from Ottawa, including the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline, a dearth of Atlantic MPs in cabinet and the decision to name Toronto MP Navdeep Bains as head of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, rather than someone from the region.

    After handing Trudeau all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada in 2015, voters expected better treatment, Savoie said.

    “It’s a feeling in Atlantic Canada that the region has been taken for granted.”

    The last time P.E.I. voters went to the polls in a provincial election was May 2015, just five months before casting their federal ballots. Stephen Harper was still in power and deeply unpopular in P.E.I., thanks in part to his Conservative government’s cuts to employment insurance, reductions in federal jobs and lingering resentment over his talk years earlier of a “culture of defeat” in Atlantic Canada.

    Back then, it was Progressive Conservatives who squirmed on the doorsteps in the face of the prime minister’s unpopularity.

    This time, it’s the other way around.

    “As much as Harper hurt things last time, Trudeau is helping now,” said one Conservative insider, speaking frankly on condition of anonymity — a sentiment echoed by others, including Liberals who remember the anti-Harper sentiment filling their sails.

    “We’re in the race of our lives,” said one. “And he (Trudeau) isn’t what he used to be.”

    Desserud said he’s not convinced all is lost for the federal Liberals. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s ties to the former Harper government and close connection with Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney, a former Harper acolyte who has promised a referendum on equalization, won’t play well in a region where three of the four provinces rely heavily on equalization payments.

    Savoie, for his part, isn’t so sure.

    “I think Trudeau had better focus on Quebec and Ontario,” he said, “because Western and Atlantic Canada is going to be an extremely tough sell.”

    —Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter

    Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press



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    National

    Ceremonies, vigils planned in Toronto to honour victims of deadly van attack

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  • TORONTO — Ceremonies and vigils are planned today to honour those killed or injured in last year’s deadly van attack in north Toronto.

    The City of Toronto is holding an event at the Mel Lastman Square Amphitheatre at 1:30 p.m. to coincide with the time of the April 23, 2018 incident that left 10 dead and 16 injured.

    In the hours before the ceremony, the city is expected to install temporary signs in the area to commemorate what it has dubbed the “Yonge Street Tragedy” until permanent memorials are created.

    The city says consultations on the memorials will begin this spring.

    Events are also planned elsewhere in the neighbourhood where the attack took place.

    The Willowdale community is hosting a moment of silence, an evening vigil and a free dinner, among other events.

    It is also bringing in trauma counsellors and therapy dogs for those who need support.

    The city was gripped with grief in the wake of the attack and more than $4 million was raised in support of the victims and their families.

    Alek Minassian, 26, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

    He is set to face trial next February. 

    The Canadian Press


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    New commemorative loonie marking ‘progress’ for LGBTQ2 people to be unveiled today

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  • TORONTO — The Royal Canadian Mint is unveiling a new commemorative loonie today meant to mark what it calls a key milestone for lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and two-spirited people in the country.

    The agency says the new one-dollar coin pays tribute to Parliament’s passing of legislation that “initiated the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.”

    It says the coin, which will be presented in Toronto today, celebrates “50 years of progress for LGBTQ2 Canadians.”

    But historians and advocates are raising concerns about the message behind the new loonie, saying it mistakenly suggests equality has been achieved and largely as a result of the federal government’s actions.

    A group of activists and academics is holding a news conference near the mint’s event today to challenge myths surrounding the 1969 Criminal Code reform.

    York University historian Tom Hooper, who is part of the group, says LGTBTQ people faced continued criminalization over the decades that followed the legal changes.

    He said discrimination against LGBTQ people persists today, noting as examples that trans and queer people of colour still face issues with policing and people with HIV remain subject to criminalization.

    The mint “could have consulted people who have knowledge of this history but they didn’t,” Hooper said, adding he hopes the agency will do so in the future.

    He acknowledged no campaign can compete with roughly three million coins but said the project is at least fuelling a public conversation about LGBTQ history.

    “As a historian, I’m hoping to inform as many people as I can about our history. So in some ways the coin is opening up that opportunity,” he said.

    The mint has said it is largely informed by the Department of Canadian Heritage and its “anniversaries of significance” when it comes to selecting commemorative themes for coins.

    The Canadian Press


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