Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre faced off over affordability and cost-of-living in question period on Thursday — their first direct confrontation since the new Conservative leader was crowned on Sept. 10.
Poilievre, speaking in French, opened with a jab at Trudeau for missing the first two question periods of the session. He said it was “good to see the prime minister,” who he described as “visiting Canada” to “fuel up the gas in his private jet.”
Trudeau had missed the last two question periods because he had been travelling on the three-decades old Can Force One — the same plane used by many of his predecessors — to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday, followed by the UN General Assembly in New York.
The Conservative leader then pivoted to his question, which focused on the growing affordability crisis. He asked whether Trudeau will take action on the issue, calling on the prime minister not to raise any taxes.
Trudeau responded by congratulating Poilievre once again for securing the Conservative leadership, then shared talking points about what the government is doing to create an economy that “works for everyone”
However, Trudeau didn’t avoid the jabs for long — by the third question, he was slinging critiques back at Poilievre, including pointing to the Conservative leader’s past support for cryptocurrency.
In response to a question from Poilievre about whether Trudeau plans to “ground the jet, park the hypocrisy and axe the tax hikes,” Trudeau went after Poilievre for the position he took on the digital currency during the leadership campaign.
“If Canadians had followed the advice of the leader of the opposition and invested in volatile cryptocurrencies…they would have lost half of their savings.”
The value of one of the most popular cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, has fallen significantly in recent months. As of Thursday afternoon, it was trading at just over US$19,000, marking a significant drop in value since its all-time high of about US$68,000 last November.
While Thursday brought some heated exchanges to the floor of the House of Commons, it wasn’t the first time the leaders have traded barbs in the 12 days since Poilievre has been Conservative Party leader.
Poilievre’s first speech to caucus as leader included several lobs aimed at the Liberal Party — including his call for it to act on the growing affordability challenges Canadians are facing.
“Canadians are out of money, and this prime minister is out of touch,” he said in the Sept. 12 speech.
Trudeau unveiled the government’s proposed affordability measures the following day, on Sept. 13. The plan has already proven to be a contentious topic during question period this week as both parties continue to focus on cost-of-living issues.
The Liberal Party’s proposal includes money for struggling renters, a temporary dental care benefit for some kids under 12, and a one-time boost to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Credit. Of the $4.6-billion plan, $3.1 billion is new money — on top of what was already earmarked in Budget 2022.
Poilievre wasted no time criticizing the proposal publicly, suggesting last week that the spending would not help average Canadians — and could risk making inflation worse.
“It simply pours more gasoline on the inflationary fire,” Poilievre said.
Trudeau immediately faced similar questions from reporters, but during his announcement, he pushed back on the assertion his plan could worsen inflationary pressures.
“I think the most important thing is to understand there are Canadians out there who are really hurting. … What we’re doing with these specific measures is targeting those most vulnerable, those most hard-hit by increases in inflation,” Trudeau said.
“They are also sufficiently targeted that we are confident they will not contribute to increased inflation.”
Trudeau has also launched some attacks of his own against the new Conservative leader.
While congratulating Poilievre on his leadership victory on Sept. 12, the prime minister immediately pivoted to calling on Canadians to choose “responsible leadership.”
“Buzzwords, dog whistles 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,” he said.
Poilievre has taken jabs at a number of Canadian institutions over the course of his leadership campaign, including calling for the Bank of Canada governor to be fired and criticizing universities as being influenced by “thought police.”
Trudeau also went after the Conservative leader for his past support of cryptocurrency.
“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.
As the two leaders make their respective cases in favour of their own parties — and against the others — the verdict on which has the strongest appeal for Canadians won’t come down until the next federal election.