Trudeau Makes Quebec Push as Adviser's Ouster Weighs on Campaign

  • Conservatives tie senior aide's resignation to past scandal
  • Liberals lead nationally with 37% support before Oct. 19 vote

As Canada’s election draws near, front-runner Justin Trudeau is facing fresh controversy around a senior Liberal aide that rivals say evokes back-room tactics that drove the party from power nine years ago.

Trudeau, 43, was touring several Montreal districts Thursday -- including the seat of one of his main rivals, New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair -- as his Liberals surge in national polls ahead of the Oct. 19 vote. They have picked up steam in Quebec, a largely French-speaking province the NDP dominated in 2011.

Tempering expectations, however, is the resignation of Trudeau’s Quebec deputy and campaign co-chair, Dan Gagnier, who stepped down Wednesday night after it was revealed he advised TransCanada Corp. on lobbying strategy during the campaign. The company’s proposed Energy East pipeline runs through Quebec, and the federal government has pushed for American approval of TransCanada’s Keystone XL project.

“We recognize that Mr. Gagnier’s actions were inappropriate, and he took responsibility for that and stepped down from our campaign,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday. “Canadians expect better from any party that wants to replace this government.”

Gagnier, whose senior role was described by the party as a “volunteer” position, said in a written statement he left because he didn’t want to be a distraction. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, however, pressed to link the ordeal to a past Liberal scandal that was a driving factor in Harper’s rise to power in 2006.

Sponsorship’s Ghost

“Justin Trudeau doesn’t represent change, he represents the same old Liberal party that brought you the sponsorship scandal,” the Conservative campaign said in a statement Wednesday evening, referring to a series of controversial government advertising contracts under former Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

“We are well aware of the challenge of perceptions in politics, and of the challenges the Liberal Party has had to address in the past,” Trudeau said Thursday, adding that he demands from everyone on his team a “high level of ethical standards.”

Quebec has 78 of the 338 seats in Canada’s House of Commons, second only to Ontario, and as recently as a month ago the NDP had a lead of 30 percentage points in the region, daily tracking data by Nanos Research show. That lead has since all but evaporated, with Nanos’s latest figures showing the NDP, which are strongest outside Montreal, at 31.6 percent and the Liberals, strongest in Montreal, at 30.8 percent. When the election was called, the NDP had 54 seats and the Liberals held seven.

National Lead

Trudeau continues to lead nationally after entering the 11-week campaign in third place. The Liberals have 37.1 percent support, followed by the Conservatives at 29.4 percent and the NDP at 23.7 percent, according to Nanos data released Thursday.

The Liberals are the only party pledging deficits, along with a middle-class tax cut, a tax hike for high earners and expanded child benefit checks. Trudeau is playing offense in the campaign’s final days, holding a rally Wednesday evening in Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s Toronto-area district, which the Liberals hope to take from the Conservatives in next week’s vote.

In an earlier stop in Hamilton, west of Toronto, Trudeau uttered the word “majority” in response to a reporter’s question -- the latest sign the party has increasingly high hopes. His staff played down the comment, however, saying all the party leaders are campaigning for a majority government.

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