Trudeau and Scheer attack Ford and Wynne in battle for bountiful Ontario

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) greets Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at a vigil remembering the victims of Monday's deadly van attack, at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto on Sunday, April 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

OTTAWA:  Ontario leaders  old and current _ were pinned in the crossfire of Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer’s battle Monday for the vote-rich province that’s the gateway to federal victory.

Trudeau fired the first shot, telling its voters not to “double down” on Conservatives after they elected Doug Ford as premier in 2018. Trudeau used a new promise of a national pharmacare program to portray Scheer as a faithful Ford follower who won’t defend people’s interests in fighting for better access to doctors, drugs or mental-health counsellors.

Scheer, meanwhile, evoked the vanquished Ontario Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, and her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, linking Wynne’s political demise to a federal leader he branded corrupt and incapable of telling the truth. Scheer promised to make it cheaper for Canadians to buy homes, pledging to resurrect 30-year mortgages and ease the so-called stress test on mortgages, while accusing Trudeau of digging Canadians deeper into debt.

Scheer and Trudeau were trying to plunder a bountiful crop of votes in the densely populated communities around Toronto and the rest of the Golden Horseshoe around the west end of Lake Ontario.

In Hamilton, Trudeau named a troika of Conservative bogeymen after last week’s emergence of images of him in black or brown makeup at costume events before he entered politics.

On Monday, he positioned himself as a defender of public health who will stand against Conservative cost-cutting, mentioning Ford by name at least a dozen times.

“The question becomes for Canadians: who do you want negotiating with Doug Ford when it comes to your health?” Trudeau said.

The Liberal leader repeated that line, using it as a mantra to frame himself as the best defender of Canada’s public health-care system.

“That is the choice people are facing: whether we continue to move forward, or we go back to the Harper years by doubling down on Conservatives who believe in cuts,” Trudeau said, deriding the “trickle down” economics approach of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who Trudeau said had “failed” Canadians.

In the suburban Toronto community of Vaughan, Ont., Scheer deflected questions about his affiliation with Ford by lampooning Trudeau’s focus on other Conservative leaders.

“The real question is: What’s the difference between Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau? The very same people who are the architects of the failed Kathleen Wynne-Dalton McGuinty government that raised taxes, ran massive deficits, mired in scandal and corruption, are now working for Justin Trudeau, and they’re following the same playbook,” said Scheer.

“So voters in Ontario know that they can limit the damage from Justin Trudeau to one term.”

Scheer said he is committed to increasing transfer payments to the provinces for health care and education by three per cent.

“I am ready to run against Justin Trudeau. I am holding Justin Trudeau to account. And he is desperate to run against anybody other than me,” he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Leader Elizabeth May are took their undercard battle to Atlantic Canada. In Bathurst, N.B., Singh was addressed criticism that he has forgotten that province by never visiting, amid a summer controversy that saw some NDP candidates switch to the Greens.

Former NDP MP Yvon Godin, who held Acadie-Bathurst for about 18 years before the Liberals took it in the 2015 election, told the CBC in August he was concerned about Singh’s inattention to the province.

“I’m really sorry,” Singh said Monday as he introduced Daniel Theriault as the candidate in Godin’s old riding. “I’m sorry I didn’t get here earlier. I’m happy to be here. I’m honoured to be here and it’s a beautiful place.”

In Fredericton, May outlined her party’s plan to break down barriers to mental health care, including reducing wait times and putting more money into services in rural and remote areas.

Monday was Trudeau’s second straight day courting suburban family voters; he spent Sunday in Brampton, Ont., promising a big-ticket tax cut worth billions and a 25-per-cent reduction in their cellphone bills.

Scheer was on Prince Edward Island on Sunday, where he pledged to veterans to personally oversee efforts to reset the Conservative party’s relationship with Canada’s ex-soldiers.