Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday, who was pelted with gravel at a rally last week, said the leader of the right-wing People’s Party of Canada (PPC) was using irresponsible rhetoric.
The 49-year-old Trudeau was campaigning in London, Ontario, last week ahead of the Sept 20 national election when he was hit by gravel on his way back to his campaign bus.
Police charged former PPC member Shane Marshall with assault with a weapon on Saturday, alleging Marshall tossed the stones.
PPC leader Maxime Bernier expelled Marshall from the party last week when the allegations emerged, and he also condemned the incident.
On Sunday, Trudeau placed at least some of the responsibility on Bernier for the gravel throwing and the often profane verbal abuse he has faced from angry vaccine opponents on the campaign trail.
“Words have power,” Trudeau told supporters at an event outside of Montreal when asked whether Bernier was inciting violence. “I don’t think Mr. Bernier is being responsible in his approach to Canada or to Canadians.”
A lone protester waving a PPC sign shouted, “Woo! Max Bernier!” and “liar” and “tyrant” as Trudeau spoke. “Thank you, sir, for making my point,” Trudeau replied.
Bernier, who calls himself a “limited-government conservative,” has been drawing vocal crowds as he campaigns against pandemic lockdowns and vaccine mandates.
A former minister of foreign affairs and industry, Bernier founded the populist PPC in 2018 after narrowly losing his bid for the leadership of the main opposition Conservative Party.
In 2019, the PPC won only 1.6% of the national vote and failed to get a seat in parliament, but an Ekos poll published on Saturday has the PPC at 9.1%.
A rolling Nanos Research poll of 1,200 voters conducted on Friday showed the Liberals leading 34.4% with the rival Conservatives at 30.1%, a shift from Thursday when the Conservatives were leading the Liberals by more than two percentage points.
The Liberal gain in the polls followed two nationally broadcast debates, in French and English, last week.
The left-leaning New Democrats had 19% on Friday, about the same as a day earlier.