Trudeau's main rival offers affordable govt in first convention speech

Canada's Conservative Party of Canada leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

By Fergal Smith

(Reuters) - Canada's main opposition Conservative Party on Saturday is set to wrap up their first in-person convention in five years in an upbeat mood, with polls showing a healthy lead over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals ahead of an election due by late 2025.

In his first address to a convention since winning the leadership a year ago, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre told about 2,500 party members late Friday that Canadians will have two options at the next election.

"A common-sense Conservative government that frees hardworking people to earn powerful paycheques that buy affordable food, gas and homes in safe neighborhoods," Poilievre said at the convention in Quebec City.

Poilievre said the second option would be a reckless coalition of Trudeau and the New Democratic Party that "punishes your work, takes your money, taxes your food, doubles your housing bill and unleashes crime and chaos in your neighborhood."

The Liberals only have a minority of seats in the House of Commons lower chamber and rely on support from the smaller left-of-center New Democrats to govern.

Poilievre, 44, has hammered away at Trudeau for months, accusing him of driving up the cost of living through what he calls reckless government spending.

In Friday's address, Poilievre promised to balance the federal budget if the Conservatives won the next election.

The party also recently launched a major ad campaign that touts Poilievre as a family man, shortly after Trudeau announced his separation from his wife.

The right-leaning Conservatives have lost three consecutive elections to Trudeau in 2015, 2019 and 2021. But a string of recent surveys indicate that if an election were held now, the Conservatives would take power.

An Angus Reid poll on Thursday showed the Conservatives at 39% public support, with the Liberals on 27%. Angus Reid President Shachi Kurl said Poilievre was successfully tapping into wide-spread public concerns about inflation.

"All he does is talk about this issue. And he's talking about it at a time where legitimately Canadians are feeling the pain of it," Kurl said. "It's not a manufactured issue, it's not a wedge issue."

The Liberals won the last two elections in part by accusing the Conservatives of holding extreme views on sensitive topics such as abortion, gun control and climate change.

The next election must be held by October 2025, by which point Trudeau will have been in power for a decade - traditionally the point where Canadian voters start to look for governing alternatives.

"This is very much about the Trudeau fatigue factor and a fatigue factor with this Liberal government," said Kurl.

Federal Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault said the government is aware that some people were having trouble with the cost of living.

"We have to continue to work to support the population and I think by doing that we will win popular support," he told reporters in Quebec City on Friday.

(Additonal reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Diane Craft)