It’s no secret to those following the federal election campaign that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau seems to be going after former prime minister Stephen Harper as much, if not more, than Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
But just how much more?
Roughly 33 per cent.
Global News has been tracking how many times at official events and media availabilities each of the two front runners reference the other — or others entirely.
That does not include photo ops, whistlestops or unscheduled remarks.
Those records show Trudeau has referenced Harper (in English) at speeches and campaign stops a total of 62 times so far over the last 21 days.
In comparison, he has mentioned Scheer just 40 times — the same number of times Trudeau has mentioned Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Scheer, on the other hand, has mentioned Trudeau 326 times so far in the campaign.
That’s equal to roughly seven times the amount that Trudeau mentioned him.
Global News reached out to both parties asking about their attacks but didn’t receive clear answers to the question of why they were focusing on the attacks seen so far: a Conservative spokesperson accused Trudeau of being afraid to run on his record and whipping up fear, while a Liberal said the choice for voters is whether to return to the same kinds of policies seen under the Harper and Ford governments.
A source working with Ford’s government also echoed the federal party remarks when asked about the number of times Trudeau has brought up Ford, accusing Trudeau of “banking on the fact that he can make Ontarians afraid.”
“The reason that Scheer is pounding on Trudeau is because the entire Liberal brand is Trudeau. So if you’re going to rough up the Liberals, it starts with their leader and he also knows Trudeau is a controversial figure in Canada now,” said Darrell Bricker, president of Ipsos.
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Bricker said the same isn’t true for Scheer, who polls suggest remains an undefined brand in the minds of voters.
“He’s not the Conservative brand the same way Trudeau is the Liberal brand,” Bricker said. “So what the Liberals are trying to do on the other side, because he is a bit of a blank slate, they’ve got their chalk out and they’re trying to colour him in.”
The way they’re trying to do that, Bricker said, is by making direct links in voters’ minds to two other highly controversial figures: Ford and Harper.
According to a poll by Angus Reid last week, half of Ontario voters say their opinions of Ford and his government will sway their vote on Oct. 21, with 85 per cent of those saying Ford’s government will make them less likely to support Scheer and the federal Conservatives.
At the same time, 71 per cent said Ford’s government will make them more likely to support the Liberals.
“Our polling has shown Doug Ford has proved to be the political equivalent of kryptonite for the federal Conservatives and so of course, Trudeau likes talking about him a lot,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute. “Same when it comes to Stephen Harper.”
Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, described the approach taken by the frontrunners as one of “the phantom and the menace.”
“He’s being careful not to elevate Scheer as a serious opponent so he doesn’t mention him that much, because if a prime minister starts to recognize you and acknowledge you, that in a way legitimizes you,” he said.
“So he’s going after the phantoms: the Stephen Harpers, the Doug Fords, the people who aren’t in this race and making people think that whoever this unknown Conservative leader is, he’s not really himself.”
But he said that sets up a big question that could be answered on debate night: can Scheer exceed expectations?
“The risk I guess for Trudeau and the opportunity for Scheer is that he suddenly performs well and people start to watch — perhaps in the debates he defies expectations, that he’s not just this little kid baby brother to the others,” Powers said, adding the question facing Trudeau is more clear-cut:
Will Canadians “forgive and forget?”
— With files from Global’s Jigar Patel and Travis Dhanraj.