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OTTAWA — Conservatives are using the spectre of a Liberal-NDP coalition government to urge Canadians to hand Andrew Scheer a majority government on Oct. 21.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh raised the prospect of a coalition Sunday, saying his party would “absolutely” consider formally joining forces with the Liberals to prevent the Conservatives from forming a minority government.

With just a week to go in a campaign that’s seen the Liberals and Conservatives deadlocked in the polls and neither within reach of a majority, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau refused Monday to contemplate a coalition scenario.

He dodged multiple questions about a possible coalition during a campaign stop in Windsor, Ont., repeatedly responding that he remains focused on winning a majority.

“Our focus is on electing a progressive government and stopping Conservative cuts,” Trudeau said.

But the Conservatives pounced on Singh’s speculation to stoke fear about what a coalition government might mean.

In a news release Monday as Scheer travelled to Winnipeg, the Conservatives said if the Liberals were dependent on the NDP to retain power, it would mean hiking Trudeau’s carbon tax even higher than currently planned, and that would “shut down industry and kill jobs” and even larger deficits.

“Justin Trudeau will pay any price to stay in power. And it’s your money he will pay with,” the Tories said.

“There’s only one way for Canadians to stop this coalition that you cannot afford: Vote for Andrew Scheer and elect a Conservative majority government.”

The party had a similar message in an email sent to urge supporters to vote in advance polls before they close Sunday night.

“Yesterday, the NDP let Canadians in on their little secret,” said the email. “They are planning to form a coalition government with Justin Trudeau if Canadians don’t elect a Conservative majority government on Oct. 21.”

With polls suggesting the NDP nationally and the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec have gotten a bounce out of last week’s leaders’ debates and are eating into Liberal support, Trudeau ramped up the message he’s expected to hammer home every day until voting day: progressive voters must vote Liberal to stop the Conservatives.

He pointed out that the NDP and Bloc both had strong contingents in the House of Commons during the almost 10 years that Stephen Harper was prime minister and they couldn’t stop him from cutting programs and services, attacking unions and retreating from Canada’s climate change commitments in the Kyoto protocol.

“The progressive opposition couldn’t prevent Stephen Harper’s cuts.”

With the Detroit skyline behind him, Trudeau also argued that Canada needs a strong progressive government to stand up to mercurial U.S President Donald Trump.

He accused Scheer of urging Canada to “cave” in to Trump’s demands during renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. And he said Singh would scrap the new trade deal and reopen negotiations with Trump, creating instability and uncertainty.

“We need to continue to have a strong government with a clear focus on standing up for Canadians, standing up to Donald Trump, standing up to the forces of populism and chaos around the world and focus on investing in Canadians and promoting our values at home and abroad.”

On Sunday, Singh was unequivocal about his willingness to form a coalition to prevent a minority Conservative government. 

“Oh absolutely, because we are not going to support a Conservative government. We are going to fight a Conservative government. We are going to fight it all the way,” he said.

But Singh would not repeat that sentiment Monday during a campaign stop on Vancouver’s Granville Island, dodging repeated questions about how legitimate a coalition government would be or whether he’d insist on some NDP slots in a Trudeau cabinet.

“We’re not talking about a coalition government … I’m not negotiating the future today,” he said.

“You’re not stuck with two choices. You can go beyond that. You can choose New Democrats who will fight for you, who have always fought for you and that’s what we offer in this election.”

Singh also accused Trudeau of lying about his stance on the new NAFTA. He said he does not want to scrap the deal but, rather, work with Democrats in Congress to strengthen the labour and environmental standards in the pact to make them enforceable.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 14, 2019.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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