By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Donald Trump is so unpopular in Canada that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using the spectre of the U.S. president to attack his conservative rival ahead of a national election set for next year.
Trudeau, whose ruling Liberals have a 12-seat majority in the 338-seat parliament, calls Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer a climate change “ideologue” who stokes “fear and division” on immigration.
Only 25 percent of Canadians have confidence in Trump, a fraction of the 83 percent garnered by former President Barack Obama two years ago, according to a Pew Research Center survey published last month.
Trudeau and Trump have traded barbs. The U.S. president tweeted in June that the Canadian leader was “very dishonest and weak” and later threatened to impose tariffs on Canadian-made cars that he said would be the “ruination” of Canada’s economy.
The Conservatives led in the polls in March, but the Liberals drew ahead in July after Trudeau’s spat with Trump and now hold a one-point lead in the latest survey by Ipsos Public Affairs.
“It’s political manna from heaven (for Trudeau) to have a fight with Donald Trump,” said a source familiar with the thinking of the Conservative leadership. Party officials are concerned that comparisons with Trump could turn off supporters, the source said.
Scheer, still relatively unknown to voters after taking over as party leader last year, is choosing his words carefully on issues like climate change and immigration, while Trudeau is attacking his rival’s position on the environment as being tantamount to Trump’s.
The U.S. government announced last year that it intended to formally withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord. Canada, a major oil and gas producer, remains committed to the agreement.
Trudeau, 46, portrays Scheer as someone – like Trump – who denies climate change is man-made. Polls show Canadians overwhelmingly agree climate change is real and must be tackled.
Trudeau plans to tax carbon emissions, a measure which Scheer opposes on the grounds it will force “suburban moms and dads” to spend a lot more money on gas.
Speaking in Ottawa’s National Gallery in front of a wall-sized picture of an old-growth forest on Oct. 29, Trudeau said Scheer’s criticism shows the Conservatives want to “make pollution free again”.
The phrase mimicking Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan has since been repeatedly used by Liberal ministers and legislators.
Scheer, 39, does not deny climate change and has said he will present his own strategy to combat carbon emissions without raising taxes by the time Canadians are due to vote on Oct. 21, 2019.
While the Conservative source said the attempts to link Scheer to Trump were calculated, an official close to Trudeau declined to comment.
The official said Trudeau’s characterization of Scheer’s position on climate change is “very factual.”
PRESSURE ON IMMIGRATION
Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker said the Liberal strategy to paint Scheer as a northern Trump could work in the ruling party’s favour given Canadians’ “very poor view” of the U.S. leader.
Scheer is also under Liberal pressure on immigration.
In July, the Conservative Party withdrew an ad that had been posted on its Twitter feed showing a black asylum seeker entering Canada through a broken fence while walking over the text of a 2017 Trudeau tweet that read: “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”
The ad alleged that Trudeau’s tweet lured thousands of people into Canada from the United States to file refugee claims. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the Conservatives were “peddling false information to stoke fear.”
Canadians’ view of Trump, who has adopted hard-line policies on immigration, was highlighted earlier this month when the mere presence of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon at a Toronto debate drew hundreds of protesters, resulting in 12 arrests.
The protesters “were calling the audience fascists and taking their pictures and threatening to put them online,” Bannon said in an interview. “It was a tough audience. They hated Trump.”
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Paul Simao)