Justin Trudeau to focus on Saskatchewan in election strategy, experts say

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses a meeting with caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to visit Saskatchewan for a seventh time in the last year and experts say it’s part of a political strategy to show he has not given up on certain provinces.

Trudeau is to be in La Loche today – one day after the third anniversary of shootings at a home and a high school left four people dead in the remote northern community. Seven others were injured.

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Although Trudeau’s visit Wednesday isn’t as political as the town hall he held in Regina two weeks ago, longtime Liberal pundit Rob Silver said the party isn’t giving up on areas that are harder to win.

Silver, who is married to Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford, said the visits could lead to a breakthrough in future elections.

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“If somebody had told me in 2004 that Stephen Harper within seven years was going to win a majority of seats in the (Greater Toronto Area), a plurality of seats in the province of Ontario, coming out of the reform of the Canadian Alliance days, I would have laughed at you,” Silver said Monday.

He also used the example of Jack Layton’s NDP breaking through in Quebec by winning 59 seats in the 2011 federal election.

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Part of the secret to success in those two instances, Silver said, was that the Conservatives and New Democrats kept showing up to places where they may not have been as successful in the past.

Ralph Goodale currently holds the only Liberal seat in Saskatchewan. The Conservatives hold 10 seats and the NDP hold two. Erin Weir was elected as a New Democrat, but has since declared himself a member of the old Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.

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Trudeau also visited La Loche in the aftermath of the shootings. In a statement issued Tuesday, ahead of his visit, he said he knows more needs to be done so Canadians feel safe and have supports within their communities.

“We will continue to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples, and municipal, territorial, and provincial governments, to address the issues facing La Loche and other places across the country,” the statement said.

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The Dene High School in La Loche, 700 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, held a grand reopening last Friday to mark the completion of construction on the front entrance, the washrooms and a wellness area.

READ MORE: Renovated school important step towards healing from shooting: La Loche mayor

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The shooter was weeks away from his 18th birthday when he killed teenage brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine at their home before he fatally shot teacher’s aide Marie Janvier and teacher Adam Wood at the school.

He was sentenced as an adult to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years. The shooter is appealing his sentence and can’t be named.

Joe Garcea, a political studies professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said Trudeau’s latest visit also signals that he cares about northern and Indigenous issues.

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“This is a place where he can do that and it has a certain amount of resonance, at least with the leadership and membership of the Aboriginals,” he said.

Pipelines and the federal carbon tax were issues addressed at the recent town hall.

The provincial government is asking the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to rule on whether the federal government’s plan to impose the tax on the province is constitutional. The case is to be heard in February.

Daniel Beland, a political science professor at McGill University, said Trudeau frequenting Saskatchewan shows he’s not forgetting about western Canadians despite criticism from Prairie leaders.

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“He’s speaking to people across the country and he’s also saying, ‘Look, I go to Saskatchewan and to Alberta. I’m not so popular there, but I just speak to people who are skeptical of my proposals, because I’m really the prime minister of all Canadians,”‘ Beland said.

“When you show up for their tragedies as well as for other happy events, it shows respect to the voters,” Silver said. “Avoiding places is the opposite of that.”

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