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WINDSOR, Ont. — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is targeting voters in Ontario’s struggling manufacturing heartland, billing his government’s NAFTA rescue mission as a critical victory that his NDP and Conservative rivals would abandon.

In the southwestern Ontario city of Windsor, home to one of the country’s busiest border crossings and an enduring symbol of Canada-U.S. trade, Trudeau depicted the hard-charging New Democrats as opponents of the new North American trade deal who would scrap it outright if given the chance.

And he portrayed Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives as enemies of the agreement who urged the Liberal government to give in to the demands of U.S. President Donald Trump and the forces of American protectionism.

“We were able to stand up to Donald Trump and his punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum. We were able to stand up when he wanted to tear up a trade deal that Windsor, indeed all Canadians, rely on,” Trudeau said, the Detroit skyline looming large behind him.  

“We secured a good trade deal with our most important trading partner at a time of American protectionism and uncertainty. And all the while, Andrew Scheer was saying that we had to cave, that we had to just get any deal at any cost, because NAFTA was too important and because that’s what Stephen Harper told him to say.”

He also warned that Scheer’s proposed $53 billion in cuts to services would undermine the economic benefits of the new NAFTA, which has yet to be ratified in either the U.S. or Canada.

But with polls suggesting that Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats have been clawing their way back from political obscurity, particularly since the rookie leader’s strong performances in last week’s televised debates, Trudeau has been directing more of his fire in their direction as well.

“The NDP? The NDP have said they want to tear up the current NAFTA deal and renegotiate it with Donald Trump,” he said. “That’s not standing up for workers, that’s not standing up for Windsor.”

Later Monday afternoon, Singh accused Trudeau of lying about the NDP position on NAFTA.

“What we are calling for is this: the current protections that are in place are not enforceable and that means our Canadian workers are not being protected,” he said in Vancouver.

And he continued to warn voters away from the New Democrats, calling that a path to a Conservative government that would hearken back to the Harper era.

“There have been great, strong progressive oppositions in the past,” Trudeau said.

“I was part of a number of opposition parties who were standing up strongly to Stephen Harper as he went ahead with cuts to culture, attacks on unions, cuts to infrastructure, cuts to our veterans, cuts to Canada’s fight against climate change, cuts to Canada’s place in the world.

“I was there for almost 10 years of a Harper government that, despite all the strong fighting we did from opposition, kept moving ahead with its cuts.”

Later Monday morning, the campaign shifted from trade deals to retail politics.

Trudeau visited a family restaurant in Tilbury, a community in Chatham-Kent, Ont., accompanied by his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and their three children, Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien.

It was the first time his family has appeared on the campaign trail since the security threat at a rally in Mississauga, Ont., on Saturday night, where Gregoire Trudeau ended up not joining him on stage as originally planned.

Mellissa Patrick watched her three-year-old daughter, Megan, dance around the restaurant after the Trudeau family left, recalling how the little girl had been unable to walk earlier this year.

She said her daughter has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer in the bone marrow, and needs to travel to London, Ont. about once a month to receive chemotherapy treatments.

Trudeau had stopped to speak with the pair during his time in the restaurant and Patrick gave him a pin with a bead and ribbon created by Dawn Marchand, mother of Layla Girard, who died of cancer at the age of 12 last week.

Trudeau had spoken with Girard via video call during his first campaign trip to Windsor in September.

Patrick also gave Trudeau one of the “bravery beads” that her daughter had earned for one of her regular trips to the hospital for treatment. Trudeau showed it to his youngest son, Hadrien, and said they would talk later about things he could do to be brave.

Patrick said she wanted to thank Trudeau for the Liberal campaign pledge to devote $30 million to pediatric cancer research next year.

“It’s a long road for childhood cancer and we need the funding and it needs recognition,” she said.

On Monday afternoon, Gregoire Trudeau joined her husband, along with their two eldest children, to pump up the crowd at a campaign stop in London, Ont.

Trudeau, whose voice is getting hoarse, said their youngest son stayed back on the bus for the event because he was overwhelmed by the crowd.

Gregoire Trudeau told the audience, many of them members of visible minority communities, they are the ones working to show diversity makes Canada a better place.

“It’s you, it’s in your lives, every single day, the sacrifices that you make through your jobs and your families, that will allow us to create more equality and more love and more unity and more justice in this country,” she said.

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

The Canadian Press

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