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As Poilievre drives the conversation on car theft, Liberals say solutions are coming

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Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez insists the Liberal government is heading into an auto-theft summit later this week armed with ideas for how to solve the problem.

But Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is trying to convince Canadians he already has a plan, complete with a slick social media campaign that taps into mounting public anxiety about the growing challenge.

For the second straight day Tuesday, Poilievre delivered a sales pitch for his party's proposed new measures — this time in Montreal, a city where police say car theft has been exploding.

If Conservatives form the next government, Poilievre promised to put millions towards new scanners so border agents can better detect stolen cars in shipping containers.

On Monday in Brampton, Ont., a Toronto suburb also grappling with soaring theft numbers, he vowed to impose tougher measures against car thieves.

It's all part of a pre-emptive political strike against the Liberal government and Thursday's planned auto-theft summit, a daylong gathering of police officials, cabinet ministers and auto-industry emissaries.

"After eight years, Justin Trudeau is not worth the cost," Poilievre said Tuesday during an outdoor news conference at the Port of Montreal.

"After eight years, Justin Trudeau is not worth the crime. After eight years Justin Trudeau is not worth the cost of crime."

Tying crime to the cost of living is part of Poilievre's plan to keep Conservative sights trained on issues that have resonated with Canadians and lifted the party to the top of public opinion polls.

He'll be at it again Wednesday in Ottawa — another city hit hard by car theft — in an apparent change of tactic for a leader who has long railed against mainstream media.

Liberals, meanwhile, accuse Poilievre of peddling simplistic solutions to complex problems, like the role they say organized crime rings are playing in Canada's current rash of thefts.

But they have also acknowledged that Poilievre's relentless focus on the cost of living has been gaining traction with Canadians.

"I understand their concerns about safety in their communities," Justice Minister Arif Virani said of his constituents.

"I share those concerns as a Toronto MP."

He pushed back against Poilievre's proposal to punish car thieves more harshly — those tools already exist in the Criminal Code, Virani said.

Poilievre has promised a "new specific aggravating factor when the offence of motor vehicle theft is committed for the benefit of organized crime."

But the Criminal Code already says a judge can reduce or increase a sentence based on a list of factors, including whether "the offence was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization," Virani said.

"We need to look at many different instruments and tools to address the pressing situation. What is being suggested by Pierre Poilievre already exists in the Criminal Code."

Poilievre's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Rodriguez, the transport minister, said the complexity of the challenge is why the Liberals have summoned police, industry executives and Canada Border Services Agency officials to Thursday's summit.

Canadians will "absolutely" see measures announced afterward, he said: "They'll be announced there so we're coming into that summit with our own ideas."

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.

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