Jason Herring

Published:August 19, 2021

-Calgary Herald


Justin Trudeau didn’t visit Calgary during his 2019 election campaign until the last weekend before Canadians headed to the polls. His Liberals secured a minority government, but failed to win a single seat in Alberta.

This time around, it didn’t take nearly as long for the Liberal leader to make his way to Calgary. Trudeau stopped in the city’s northeast Thursday evening on only the fifth day of the campaign, signalling his party is looking to avoid a repeat of that Alberta shutout two years ago.

Trudeau appeared at the Whitehorn Community Centre alongside Calgary Skyview candidate George Chahal, who looks to jump from city councillor into federal politics with the Grits.

“What a pleasure to be back in Calgary. What a pleasure to be here next to your extraordinary next MP, George Chahal,” Trudeau said at the start of a brief whistle-stop speech to a crowd of about 100 supporters.

The Liberal leader called the snap election Sunday, drawing criticism from opposition politicians who called the move unnecessary and opportunistic, amid a surging fourth wave of COVID-19 cases across the country and with thousands of Afghan interpreters stuck in that country awaiting refuge to Canada.

But Trudeau defended the election call, saying it gives voters the chance to choose how Canada will navigate out of the pandemic. He focused on a handful of key issues for the Liberals, including climate change, child care and the COVID-19 response.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt says the early campaign stop indicates the Liberals believe they can win the Skyview riding, where Chahal is taking on Conservative incumbent Jag Sahota. Liberal Darshan Kang won the seat in 2015, but was booted from caucus amid sexual harassment allegations and didn’t seek re-election in 2019.

“I don’t think the chances are low. I think George Chahal has a better than even chance of winning,” Bratt said.

“If this was the 2019 campaign, this would be checking off the box, saying, ‘I’ve done the Calgary thing.’ But I would be surprised if this is the only time we see Trudeau in Calgary. I think the Liberals believe they can win seats.”

According to Bratt, two other seats in Calgary could be in play for the Liberals — Calgary Confederation and Calgary Centre. In those ridings, candidates Murray Sigler and Sabrina Glover look to unseat Tories Len Webber and Greg McLean, respectively.

Trudeau briefly criticized federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole in his speech before turning his sights to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

He slammed the Kenney government for its proposed cuts to health-care worker salaries, particularly during the pandemic. He said the UCP made “wrong decision after wrong decision” in the course of dealing with COVID-19.

“Quite frankly, here in Alberta, I know you see what happens when conservatives make decisions that aren’t based on science,” Trudeau said.

“While Jason Kenney was making decisions that were hurting all of you and blaming people in Calgary Skyview for the pandemic, the reality is Erin O’Toole and the federal conservatives weren’t there to fight for you. He was too busy praising Jason Kenney to have your backs.”

Trudeau also referred to a radio interview by Kenney in November 2020, during Alberta’s second wave of COVID-19, in which the premier issued a “wake-up call” to the city’s South Asian community, saying there was a high level of spread among the group. The comments were derided by many at the time, including Chahal; many South Asian people live in Calgary Skyview.

Kenney also took heat from another federal leader passing through Alberta earlier in the day. At a campaign stop in Edmonton, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took aim at Kenney’s “attacks” on health-care workers and promised to create a $250-million Critical Shortages Fund to address the shortage of nurses and health-care workers across Canada if he becomes prime minister.

The premier’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

It’s not surprising to see federal leaders target Kenney when they’re in Alberta, Bratt said.

“It’s because people don’t know who Erin O’Toole is but they know who Jason Kenney is, and he’s not popular,” he said.

Trudeau’s trip to Calgary was brief. Following the event, his team flew from Calgary to Winnipeg, where a campaign stop is planned for Friday.