Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized politicians using “buzzwords, dogwhistles and careless attacks” on Monday, just days after Pierre Poilievre was named the new leader of the Conservative Party.
Speaking from the Liberal caucus retreat, Trudeau congratulated Poilievre on his leadership victory — but couched his well-wishes in warnings about the kind of leadership he said Canada needs.
“We all need to work together. Now is not the time for politicians to exploit fears and to pit people one against the other. As you all know, the Conservative Party picked a new leader over the weekend,” Trudeau said.
“I want to congratulate Mr. Poilievre on becoming the leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.”
Trudeau added that the government has been making “every effort” to work with all politicians and will “continue to do so.”
“But this doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be calling out highly questionable, reckless economic ideas. What Canadians need is responsible leadership,” Trudeau said.
“Buzzwords, dogwhistles and careless attacks don’t add up to a plan for Canadians. Attacking the institutions that make our society fair, safe and free is not responsible leadership.”
Poilievre has taken jabs at a number of Canadian institutions over the course of his leadership campaign, including calling for the Governor of the Bank of Canada to be fired and criticizing universities as being influenced by “thought police.”
Trudeau also criticized Poilievre’s early campaign support of cryptocurrency — a digital form of currency which crashed significantly in recent months.
“Telling people they can opt-out of inflation by investing their savings in volatile cryptocurrencies is not responsible leadership. By the way, anyone who followed that advice would have seen their life savings destroyed,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister’s comments came just hours after Poilievre levied his own criticisms against the Liberal government.
In his first speech to caucus as leader of the Conservative Party on Monday, Poilievre attacked the government’s handling of the growing affordability challenges facing Canadians and urged them to act.
“Canadians are out of money, and this prime minister is out of touch,” he said in his first address to the Conservative caucus on Monday since being chosen as the party’s new leader.
Poilievre later added that the Conservatives are “always happy to work with any party to collaborate and extend and advance the interests of Canadians.”
But, he added, “Conservatives will not support any new tax increases and we will fight tooth-and-nail to stop the coalition from introducing any.”
The NDP and Liberals struck a governance deal earlier this year that would allow the current government to stay in power until 2025. The deal did not, however, establish any kind of formal coalition, which is a definition that only applies when members from more than one party are in cabinet positions.
His speech sets up what is likely to be a fierce season of debate once the House of Commons returns from its summer break later this month, amid continued high inflation and rising costs of everything from gasoline and groceries to a variety of goods and services.
Poilievre’s vision for the country, as described in his Monday speech to caucus, is a Canada with “a small government and big citizens, where the state is servant and the people are the masters.”
He called on the government to commit to not raising taxes on workers or seniors, while pointing to affordability issues such as families struggling to put food on the table for their children and young people finding it difficult to buy a home.
Poilievre, who has blamed the government’s deficit, in part, for affordability issues, did not say where he would find funds to reduce the deficit without raising taxes, though.
“Canadians are hurting, and it is our job to transform that hurt into hope,” Poilievre. “That is my mission.”
The Liberal government has a different vision for the country — one that embraces spending to tackle economic issues, and which Trudeau is expected to highlight when he speaks later on Monday.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s most-recent budget, which was unveiled in April, included $31 billion in net new spending over the next five years, including funds for housing, plans to jolt businesses into increased investment, and promises of services like dental care.
Perhaps the widest gulf between the two leaders, however, is their take on rising populism and what to do about it. While Poilievre has faced criticism for his use of populist language around eliminating “gatekeepers,” Trudeau has pushed back on this approach.
“In a world where our institutions are being threatened, where we face complex challenges, populism and other simplistic solutions are simply not the answer,” Trudeau said in a press conference last month. “Liberal democratic values. Strong institutions. These are the things that vow that guarantee our freedom individually and collectively.”
While the two parties and their leaders paint very different pictures for the future of the country, the verdict on which has the strongest appeal for Canadians won’t come down until the next federal election.