Leaders trade accusations of desperation tactics as campaign heads down to wire

OTTAWA — The three main party leaders accused one another of desperation tactics Friday as they sprinted towards the finish line in an election campaign that has yet to produce a clear front-runner.

With just three days to go until Monday's vote, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused their Conservative rival, Andrew Scheer, of spreading lies and misinformation in a desperate bid to scare Canadians into giving him a majority.

Scheer, meanwhile, accused Trudeau of plotting to form a coalition government with the NDP in a desperate bid to cling to power.

Most polls continue to suggest the Liberals and Conservatives are deadlocked in popular support, raising talk about potential minority or coalition governments. Support has grown for the NDP in some provinces and for the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, hurting both the Liberals and Conservatives.

At a rally Friday evening in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan, Trudeau invoked the memory of his late father — Pierre Trudeau, one of Canada's most iconic prime ministers — to urge Liberals not to give up on their hopes of winning re-election.

"As we approach these last, final days of this election campaign, I can't help but think of a lesson my father taught me," Trudeau said, noting that Friday was the 100th anniversary of his father's birth.

"My father always used to tell me that when you're paddling across a big lake and the clouds get darker and the wind comes up and the waves start to show whitecaps and break a little more, there really is only one thing to do: Sing louder and paddle harder."

Earlier Friday in the Toronto suburb of Whitby, Trudeau acknowledged, "There is a chance that there could be a Conservative government and that would mean cuts."

He reiterated his attack point that the Conservatives would have to cut $53 billion from programs and services to pay for their pledge to balance the budget in five years, a multi-year total that is drawn from the Conservatives' platform.

For his part, Scheer claimed — without any evidence — that a potential Liberal-NDP coalition would hike the goods and services tax.  And he defended past claims — categorically denied by the Liberals — that a re-elected Trudeau government would impose new taxes on home sales and legalize hard drugs.

"It's not misinformation at all. We know that the Liberals are contemplating these types of things," Scheer said during a campaign stop in Fredericton.

"Justin Trudeau did a lot of things that wasn't in his platform after 2015," he added, eliciting cheers from supporters at a brew pub on the Saint John River.

Scheer later referred to the hypothetical coalition as "an NDP government wearing a Justin Trudeau mask" and warned that it would run up massive deficits that would require big tax increases to pay off.

"If Justin Trudeau intends to form a working partnership with the NDP after the election, if he loses this election, he needs to have the courage to come clean with Canadians as to which taxes he will increase to buy off the NDP," he said.

Trudeau called Scheer's claims "entirely untrue."

"It is unfortunate that the Conservatives keep having to make up attacks against us," he said.

As for Scheer's dire warning of a GST hike under a Liberal-NDP coalition, Singh flatly said the Conservative leader is lying.

"Mr. Scheer is just making stuff up because he's getting desperate. We absolutely will not raise the GST. No. Not whatsoever because it's not a progressive tax," Singh said in Port Alberni, B.C.

"We've never, anywhere, in any of our announcements ever suggested any vague way that we would be increasing GST. That's wrong. That's not true."

Singh said he didn't think voters would believe Scheer's claims. But he also took aim at Trudeau, reiterating that the Liberal leader has been a disappointment to progressive Canadians, for whose votes the Liberals and NDP are competing.

"Mr. Trudeau's going to tell you that you don't have a choice in this election, that you have to vote out of fear," said Singh. 

"In this election I want to be clear: I'm running to be your prime minister because I want to make a difference in the lives of Canadians."

Singh was campaigning on Vancouver Island where the NDP is in a head-to-head fight with Elizabeth May's Green party. The NDP has been dominant on the island but the Greens' two seats are there and they're looking for more.

Singh tried to distinguish himself from May by emphasizing that he would not co-operate with a Conservative minority government under any circumstances. He said May has left open that possibility.

May focused on international trade on Friday, saying the Greens would restructure Canada's approach because current agreements favour the rights of corporations at the expense of environmental protection.

Trudeau pivoted Friday to Ontario after two days in Quebec, turning his attention to ridings outside Toronto. He touched down in Barrie and Orillia, as well as Vaughan and Whitby.

Quebec and Ontario, as the country's two most vote-rich provinces, are key to victory in Monday's election.

Scheer returned to Quebec, to campaign alongside the candidate hoping to knock off People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier in Beauce before moving on to a rally in Drummondville.

Bernier barely lost the Conservative leadership to Scheer before quitting and starting his own party. In his first public appearance outside his home riding in days, Bernier said Friday in Quebec City that if more Quebecers knew his party better they would be less tempted to vote for the Bloc Quebecois.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2019.

Mike Blanchfield and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press