OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says as long as the Conservative government believes the environment and the economy are an either-or scenario, Canada is going to suffer. Trudeau swings into Winnipeg today for a town hall event in St. Boniface on his democratic-reform platform, but with an American bank saying Canada has slipped into a recession in the first two quarters of this year, the focus is as much on the economy as ever.
"They need to accept you cannot build a strong economy anymore without strong environmental stewardship," Trudeau told the Free Press in an interview.
He was speaking by phone from Calgary where all three leaders of the major national parties unofficially kicked off the summer campaign circuit at the Calgary Stampede.
It is a city where he acknowledges his party has struggled, not having won a seat since 1968.
But as the capital of Canada's oil and gas industry, Calgary is also a city where meshing economic growth and environmental stewardship don't always go hand in hand.
Trudeau says they must.
"We know they go together, but this government still wants to pretend there is a choice," he said. Trudeau unveiled his party's platform on the environment last week, which includes putting a price on carbon and investing in clean-energy technology and renewable energy sources.
"We have to be smarter in how we make investments that stimulate growth," said Trudeau, when asked about the claim Thursday by economists at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Canada was in a recession following negative growth in both the first two quarters of 2015.
They also predicted the loonie will tumble as a result.
An economic crumble just weeks before the next federal election is not something Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted to see, and Finance Minister Joe Oliver said Thursday he thinks the Americans are wrong.
"First off, we're not in a recession," he said at an event in Toronto Friday morning. "We don't believe we will be in a recession." The impact of falling oil prices on Canada's economy has been significant, and while other sectors, such as manufacturing, are expected to make gains as a result of the lower Canadian dollar, that hasn't necessarily happened as quickly as hoped or needed.
Trudeau's trip to Winnipeg comes at the end of several months of sliding political popularity for his party. Last year, the Liberals went into the summer with double-digit lead in some polls over the Conservatives. This year, they are back in third place in some polls or statistically tied with the Conservatives in others. Meanwhile, the federal NDP leads in almost all polls across the board.
Trudeau shrugged it off and said it doesn't change anything about how his party is doing its work. His visit to Manitoba brings him to territory that may be more friendly than elsewhere, as the NDP's federal popularity is not translating in Manitoba where the provincial government's issues appear to be stymying federal NDP support.
In Winnipeg, where the Liberals hope to pick up as many as five seats, the Liberals are virtually tied with the Conservatives, according to the latest Free Press Probe Research poll, and local Liberals tell the Free Press their internal polling is particularly strong in the south part of the city.
Trudeau said no matter what the polls say he will continue to make his pitch for doing things differently, including his democratic-reform platform, which has 75 different promises ranging from changing how we elect our governments to restricting political advertising between elections and restricting government advertising to non-partisan items.
Trudeau has been particularly critical of the millions being spent by the federal government on ads that promote the Conservatives rather than government programs.
He acknowledged his policies on democratic reform, and his support for the new anti-terror law (which was couched in plans to amend it to add new safeguards and sunset clauses if the Liberals are elected to government) are complex and even nuanced, which makes them more challenging to sell to voters.
But he said he doesn't believe in bumper-sticker politics.
"Canadians need to decide whether they want their politics done in full sentences," he said.