VAUGHAN, Ont. — Justin Trudeau chose to share a memory of his father, on what would have been his 100th birthday, to motivate a crowd hoping the Liberals can pull off another victory.
“My father always used to tell me that when you are paddling across a big lake, and the clouds get darker and the wind comes up, and the waves start to show white caps and break a little more, there really only is one thing to do,” Trudeau said Friday evening in Vaughan, Ont.
“Sing louder and paddle harder!” the Liberal leader, the eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, said to the cheering crowd packed into a ballroom.
The Trudeau campaign spent the day travelling through suburbs around Toronto, where the Liberals are working to hold seats they took from the Conservatives in the last election, and, judging by visits to ridings currently held by their opponents, hoping to win some more.
There, Trudeau repeated his argument that governments should not tell people how to dress, even as he refused to say whether he thinks Quebec’s secularism law is discriminatory.
“I have made it very clear that I do not think that a government should be telling people what it is they should or shouldn’t wear, but Quebecers themselves are taking this law to court and defending the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as is their right,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in Whitby, Ont.
It was the second day in a row Trudeau did not answer a direct question about whether he thinks the Quebec secularism law, also known as Bill 21, is discriminatory.
“I have said that my federal government would not intervene at this stage, but I also have not closed the door to intervening at a later stage,” said Trudeau, who is the only federal party leader on the campaign trail who has not ruled out getting involved at some point.
“Because we understand that a federal government always needs to be there, potentially, to defend rights, like women’s rights, like LGBT rights, like minority rights, like the rights of francophones outside of Quebec.”
The controversial secularism law — known as Bill 21 — bans some public-sector employees, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols in the workplace, such as hijabs for Muslim women and yarmulkes for Jewish men.
The law is overwhelmingly popular among francophones in Quebec.
The Quebec government has invoked the notwithstanding clause in the Constitution to avoid having the law struck down as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Angela Keller-Herzog, the Green candidate in Ottawa Centre, said Friday that the “biggest disappointment in this election” for her is that no national leader, including Elizabeth May of the Greens, has had the courage to call Bill 21 out for what it is.
“Bill 21 in Quebec is overtly racist,” she said. “I think all these boys and girls — if they want to be national leaders that’s just not on.”
Trudeau was campaigning in the Greater Toronto Area, which is one of the most seat-rich regions in the country and where more than half the residents are visible minorities.
“We’re not taking any votes for granted anywhere across the country,” Trudeau said Friday in Whitby, Ont., where Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who was elected as a Liberal, left the caucus earlier this year. She is not seeking re-election.
The Liberal campaign has been hopping around the country in these final days, which will include rallies Saturday night in both Winnipeg and Calgary.
On Friday, the Liberal campaign rolled into Orillia, Ont., where Conservative Bruce Stanton has been the MP for the riding of Simcoe North since 2006.
Jim Watt, who was in the crowd to welcome Trudeau, said Stanton has been a good MP, but he thinks it is time for a change. Still, he said the area is a challenge for Liberals.
“Oh yeah, this is rural Ontario,” he said. “This is where the traditional Conservative vote is, for sure. I think the people that have been brought up with the Conservatives, their parents were Conservative and they continue on with that tradition, and small-business people too.”
There were also climate activists there, including Daniel Tucker, 20, who said he has spent every Friday raising awareness about climate change outside city hall.
Tucker, who was inspired in part by Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist who has been leading climate rallies around the world, said he does not think the Liberal platform is strong enough to combat global warming.
“The analogy that I like to use is that there is a meteorite coming and there is a bunch of people arguing whether or not it exists,” he said. “We need to act like this is an emergency.”
Earlier Friday, Trudeau stopped in Markham, Ont., where he signed a shovel to indicate his support for the Toronto area’s Yonge subway extension, unbeknownst to the media covering the Liberal campaign, who are travelling on a separate bus.
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who has called on all federal party leaders to commit to starting construction on the extension before the next election should they hold power after the Oct. 21 vote, shared a video of Trudeau signing the shovel on Twitter.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has also committed to helping fund the extension.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s $28.5-billion transit expansion plan includes $5.6 billion for the Yonge extension. Ford has said he wants the federal government to join Toronto and York Region to help pay for it, but has conceded the province will foot the bill if needed.
The expanded Yonge line would add 7.4 kilometres of new light rail that would connect Toronto to the fast-growing regions of Richmond Hill, Markham and Vaughan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2019.
— With files from Mia Rabson
Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press