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Why are Trudeau and Singh avoiding Stampede this year?

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More than a million people are expected to visit the Calgary Stampede making it an ideal event for political photo-ops. But this year, only Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre will be saddling up for the event, while both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will stay away.

Political watchers say the absence of Trudeau and Singh are calculated defensive moves to protect against friendly fire they may encounter at the outdoor festival.

Other than during the COVID pandemic, Trudeau has visited the Calgary Stampede every year since becoming leader of Liberal party in 2013, which is why his absence is glaring.

"This could be the beginning of a bunker mentality," says CTV News pollster Nik Nanos. The data scientist says the prime minister may be trying to avoid facing tough questions from constituents and caucus members following the stunning loss of a Liberal stronghold to the Conservatives in a recent Toronto byelection.

Circling red wagons

The loss of a riding that the party held has raised concerns that every Liberal seat is at risk, including the riding of MP George Chahal, who was the only Grit to win in Calgary in the 2021 election.

Mount Royal University political science professor Lori Williams says Chahal’s call for an urgent caucus meeting may have factored into Trudeau’s decision not to attend.

"It may be the combination of appearing alongside someone who seems to be questioning the future of the party or maybe even of the leadership," Williams said.

The Liberals only won two seats in Alberta, but currently hold 74 in Ontario.

Instead of flipping pancakes at a Stampede breakfast hosted by Chahal on the opening weekend of the festival, as he did in 2023, the prime minister is choosing instead to attend an Islamic cultural event in the Greater Toronto area to shore up support in battleground Ontario.

"Let’s face it there aren’t a lot of Liberals in Alberta. Why spend your time in Alberta when for Justin Trudeau the real game is in Toronto and Montreal,” says Nanos.

The Prime Minister will leave for Washington, D.C. on Monday morning to attend the NATO Summit which officially begins Tuesday, July 9.

In a new addition to his schedule, senior government sources say Trudeau will meet with U.S congressional representatives for “Team Canada” talks before the defense summit begins.

While in Washington, the Prime Minister will meet with leaders from the United States Senate and House of Representatives, including Hakeem Jeffries, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell to discuss “securing the supply chain” for critical minerals and electric vehicles. 

The orange agenda

The NDP leader is also a regular Stampede visitor, but Singh won’t be there this year due to "scheduling conflicts." But he could also be seeking space away from his provincial counterpart Naheed Nenshi who has become a "frenemy."

"The Alberta NDP are popular but they want to sever links with the federal NDP," says Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt. "It’s not a big deal if (Singh) doesn’t come. They have zero seats in Calgary."

After winning the leadership of the Alberta NDP in a landslide, Nenshi, the former mayor of Calgary, announced his intentions to move forward with a membership vote to separate the provincial New Democrats from its federal branch.

The only seats the NDP hold in Alberta federally are in Edmonton.

But Anne McGrath, principal secretary to the federal NDP leader, says the party is in a strong position to expand its support. For the first time in nearly a decade, McGrath says the party is debt free and is "building a war chest" to fight the next election.

The strategy to win more than its current 25 orange seats begins with splashy new ads urging voters to "change the rules" by voting NDP to take on corporate greed.

Instead of wearing cowboy boots at the Stampede, Singh will be launching his summer tour with a town hall in the riding of Vancouver-Granville, where the party lost to the Liberals by just 431 votes in the 2021 election.

Singh will travel across Canada this summer to hold town halls in cities where the NDP sees potential for growth.

McGrath says New Democrats will take advantage of the "disarray" in the Liberal party during planned town halls scheduled for Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, St. John’s and Yellowknife.

"The people in those cities are looking at the Trudeau government and the fact that it has not really been capable of making the system work for people and right now is very much mired in a lot of internal division and caucus issues," McGrath said.

Impending Blue Wave

While his two opponents shy away from the Stampede, Pierre Poilievre will don his Stetston and appear at multiple events, including a fundraiser that is expected to draw a large crowd and deep pockets.

The Conservative leader’s popularity was not impacted by a gaffe last year when Poilievre took a photo with a fan wearing an anti-LGBTQ2S+ T-shirt declaring "Straight Pride."

In the 12 months since, Poilievre has grown and solidified a double-digit lead over the Prime Minister in opinion polls. 

This story has been updated with new information regarding the Prime Minister’s itinerary.

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