Justin Trudeau on the attack against Pierre Poilievre's 'irresponsible' politics

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SAINT ANDREWS, N.B. — Canada needs responsible leadership, not dog-whistle and irresponsible politics, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday in a direct attack on new Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

In a speech before the first full caucus meeting of the three-day retreat for Liberal MPs, Trudeau first congratulated Poilievre for winning his party's leadership on Saturday.

Then he threw down the gloves.

"Now is not the time for politicians to exploit fears and to pit people one against the other," Trudeau said, surrounded by more than 150 Liberal MPs.

"Buzzwords, dog whistles and careless attacks don't add up to a plan for Canadians. Attacking the institutions that make our society fair, safe and free is not responsible leadership."

During the leadership campaign, Poilievre went after the Bank of Canada, accusing it of shirking its responsibility and allowing itself to be an "ATM" for Trudeau's spending habit. He also said that if he became prime minister, he would fire Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem.

Last winter, Poilievre professed to be a student of cryptocurrencies and advised Canadians that investing in Bitcoin could allow them to "opt out" of inflation.

"Telling people they can opt out of inflation by investing their savings in volatile cryptocurrencies is not responsible leadership. By the way, anyone who followed that advice would have seen their life savings destroyed," Trudeau said in his speech.

Poilievre also blames Trudeau for inflation in Canada, calling it a direct result of Trudeau throwing open the bank vault doors during the pandemic.

Trudeau said he will not apologize for being there for Canadian families and businesses who were in desperate straits as the economy shut down to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

"Let me be very clear, being there for workers, for families, for seniors, for young people, for businesses, it was the right thing to do," he said.

"It was the smart thing to do. Having Canadians' backs is something we will never back down from."

Trudeau tried to highlight policies that have helped, including signing child-care deals with every province that are lowering the cost of child care significantly for many families.

Liberals MPs are coming off the first summer when they were able to get a lot of face time with constituents since before COVID-19. Most said there were three constants in what people wanted to talk about: inflation, immigration and travel.

Quebec MP Alexandra Mendès said the message she got all summer in her riding was that government was not being good at delivering what Canadians needed.

"I'm not talking about management. I'm actually talking about executing the functions of governance," she said. "And in this very particular lens is what happened this summer, a lot of it could have been predicted. And, and I'm not putting blame in any person, per se, but more instructive in the way we function as a government."

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said there is no question it has been a tough two years, with a lot of disruptions and both the private sector and government have struggled to come back.

He said there are things that haven't performed well but the government has come together to respond so problems with airport delays and passport renewals are starting to improve.

"When we face challenges, we need to be honest with Canadians about why we are facing these challenges, and highlight our plan to get out of these challenges," said Alghabra.

He said at the beginning of the pandemic, people did not believe the government could get aid out the door for people and businesses quickly and it did because there was a hyper focus to do it.

This summer, he said, airport delays were caused mainly by labour shortages at both airlines and government agencies that provide security and border controls at airports. The government went to work to add more staff at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and the Canada Border Services Agency, he said.

"There is significant improvement," Alghabra said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2022.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press