Justin Trudeau criticized Alberta's premier and United Conservative Party government as he visited Calgary five days into the official federal election campaign — a sharp contrast from 2019, when the Liberal leader only visited the city days before the vote in one of only two brief visits to the province.
Trudeau's appearance in Calgary so early in the campaign may signal the Liberals think more Alberta seats are in play than in 2019, when they were completely shut out of the province and the Tories captured all but one of the province's 34 electoral districts.
He appeared Thursday night for a rally at the Whitehorn Community Association to endorse George Chahal as the Liberal candidate for the northeast Calgary riding of Skyview.
The riding was captured by Liberal Darshan Kang in 2015, but he resigned from the party two years later amid a sexual harassment scandal and lawyer Jag Sahota won back the riding back for the Conservatives in 2019.
"What a pleasure, to be here next to your extraordinary next MP, George Chahal," Trudeau said as he threw his support behind Chahal, who has spent the past four years as a Calgary city councillor representing Wards 5 and 10. Before that, he worked in the financial sector, as well as in construction and development.
Trudeau also took a few shots at the provincial government and Premier Jason Kenney.
"Your Conservative government here cut support for our health-care heroes at the exact wrong time," said Trudeau. "While we are relying on the health-care workers on the front lines, Jason Kenney was cutting."
Last October, Kenney's government detailed a plan to lay off between 9,700 and 11,000 Alberta Health Services employees, with the jobs outsourced to private companies. In July, after months of being hailed as health-care heroes during the COVId-19 pandemic, Alberta nurses were presented with a three-per-cent wage rollback proposal from the province. His government has also picked a fight with physicians in the province, especially in rural areas.
Chahal has promised to work "tirelessly" to improve health and education, support the community's well-being, create more jobs, make life more affordable for families and protect a clean environment. On Thursday night, he said he's ready for the hard work ahead.
"The atmosphere was amazing this evening, we had a great turnout and I'm excited to see so many local residents join us," he said.
Sahota is running again in the riding as are Gurinder Singh Gill for the NDP and Harry Dhillon for the People's Party.
Trudeau takes shots at Kenney, UCP
Pundits have speculated about whether the unpopularity of the United Conservative Party government and Kenney himself may hurt the chances of the federal Conservatives and Leader Erin O'Toole.
Kenney has consistently hovered the lowest of all Canadian premiers in polls within each province throughout most of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a June poll by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) pegging his approval in Alberta at 31 per cent.
Kenney has angered people on all sides of the political spectrum for doing too much — or not enough — to curb COVID-19 cases in Alberta.
Albertans have also been frustrated by the government's controversial K-to-6 educational curriculum, loss of $1.3 billion over the Keystone XL pipeline and ongoing negotiations with Ottawa on an agreement to provide $10-a-day daycare.
The UCP government was also caught off guard by the intense backlash over a since-rescinded decision to open up parts of the Rocky Mountain foothills to coal mining.
"We were watching Albertans struggle as your government, your provincial government, made wrong decision after a wrong decision," Trudeau said Thursday night.
"The federal government kept standing up to have your back. Eight of every $10 supporting Albertans through this pandemic came from the federal government."
Some third-party advertisers and candidates have been actively exploiting the connection between the provincial and federal parties. For example, a political advertiser called the Protecting Canada Project has been airing radio, video and social media advertisements since January, many of which tie O'Toole to Kenney.
Both politicians were cabinet ministers in Stephen Harper's Conservative government. In the 2019 federal election, the freshly anointed premier travelled to Ontario to campaign for the federal Conservatives. Kenney endorsed O'Toole in the federal party's 2020 leadership race.
Trudeau's visit to Calgary was a quick one. He was in B.C. earlier Thursday, where he said a re-elected Liberal government would spend $9 billion to address the dangerous shortfalls in Canada's long-term care sector that were exposed by the pandemic, then moved on to Manitoba for campaign stops Friday.