Trudeau pans Conservatives’ pandemic response
Liberal leader links O’Toole to Tory-led provinces hit by COVID
OTTAWA—Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau disparaged the pandemic response in Alberta and Saskatchewan on Tuesday as he tried to convince voters that Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives would do no better keeping Canadians safe from COVID-19.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Richmond, B.C., Trudeau criticized O’Toole for not backing mandatory vaccinations — as the Liberals propose for interprovincial trains and planes — and said O’Toole thinks Alberta Premier Jason Kenney “is the model to follow on fighting COVID.”
Trudeau also noted the rising case numbers in Saskatchewan, where people are “facing greater risks because of cancelled surgeries, they are facing emergency public health restrictions that may have to be brought in” to curb the fourth wave.
“And I don’t think any Albertan or Saskatchewanian looking at this election could possibly think that Erin O’Toole — who can’t even get his own candidates to get vaccinated — would do any better for them than their current premiers are,” he said.
O’Toole was challenged over the weekend whether he still believes — as he said last year — that Alberta’s United Conservative government responded to the pandemic better than Trudeau’s Liberals in Ottawa.
Now, a decision to lift all restrictions earlier in the summer has plunged the province into an aggressive fourth wave, and its chief health officer apologized Tuesday for her role in that.
On Sunday, O’Toole pointed to Alberta’s testing and contract tracing regimes as areas in which that province was ahead of the curve, and said both can be used effectively going forward.
Neither Alberta nor Saskatchewan elected a single Liberal MP in the 2019 election. The Liberals believe frustration with how their conservativeled provincial governments managed the pandemic could swing some support away from O’Toole.
O’Toole and Kenney served together in the cabinet of Stephen Harper, and Kenney was a crucial supporter in O’Toole’s bid to become leader of the Conservatives.
But like Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe have remained largely on the election sidelines, aware they’ll need to work with whomever wins.
During a meeting with the Star’s editorial board on Tuesday, O’Toole said the same goes for him, and that he hasn’t asked the premiers to say nice or negative things about him.
“I’m going to try and partner with all of them,” he said.
O’Toole noted that his father, longtime MPP John O’Toole, was a friend of Doug Ford’s father, and that he’s worked alongside Ontario Progressive Conservatives for years.
“I’m a foot soldier volunteer of the Ontario PCs and everyone knows that,” he said.
Quebec Premier François Legault, however, has weighed in, suggesting last week that the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens are “dangerous” as they want to centralize power instead of devolving more to Quebecers.
At the same time, he praised the Conservatives for promising to increase federal transfer payments for health care with no strings attached and give more control to Quebec over immigration and other matters.
But if there’s a sore spot, it’s the Conservatives’ move to cancel a national daycare plan — which would deliver $6 billion to Quebec — Legault said.
On Tuesday, O’Toole moved to put a band-aid on that wound, writing to Legault and promising to meet within the first 100 days to negotiate how the existing child-care funding promised by the Liberals could remain in place.
When asked during his campaign event Tuesday whether that meant a Conservative government would give Quebec all of the promised cash, O’Toole ducked the question, saying that the province’s daycare program dates back 20 years and works for Quebecers.
“We want to make sure that our plan helps Canadian families and co-ordinates with respect to the plan in Quebec,” he said during a campaign stop in Russell, 40 kilometres southeast of Ottawa.
Elsewhere, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh highlighted his pledge to lower cellphone and internet bills during an appearance in Toronto.
“That’s what Canadians can expect from us. They can expect from us someone who is going to stand up for them and fight for them,” Singh said. “We’re not looking to plunge the country into elections. We are looking to get results and that’s what Canadians should know.”
And in Charlottetown, Green Leader Annamie Paul called for “cross-partisan” collaboration on climate change and praised the performance of Green representatives in P.E.I., where the party forms the Official Opposition in the legislature.
“Every Green who has ever been elected provincially or federally has gotten re-elected in this country because they work incredibly hard for their communities,” Paul said.