Residential schools investigation steals spotlight at duelling Winnipeg campaign events by Trudeau, O'Toole
Investigation into Indigenous remains, Manitoba PC leadership race overshadow jobs and benefits pledges
Winnipeg was the epicentre of Canada's federal election for two frenetic hours on Friday morning, as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole stopped in the Manitoba capital to issue rival pledges about jobs and benefits.
Their campaign announcements, held 75 minutes and seven kilometres apart, were overshadowed by concerns about the investigation into the remains of children found at residential schools, speculation about who will succeed Brian Pallister as Manitoba's premier and questions about Canada's extrication of Afghan allies.
Trudeau spoke first, at a Food Fare grocery store in west Winnipeg, where he promised to offer federal employees 10 paid sick days.
Indigenous leaders were waiting in the parking lot to press Trudeau for more action and a potential criminal investigation into the discovery of children's remains.
"The discovery of these unmarked graves creates an opportunity for healing for all of us," said Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, flanked by Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse and Garrison Settee, Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimkakinak.
"These are not people who died of natural causes or regular health-related issues," Dumas said.
"These are people who were murdered in these institutions of genocide, so the quicker we can discover these graves and address them whatever way the communities want to do that, the better it is for everyone."
Inside Food Fare, Trudeau promised further action but did not offer up specifics.
"We know how important it is that there be accountability, that there be full truth as well as reconciliation in the horrors of Canada's past," the Liberal leader said.
Speaking at Bison Transport, northeast of Richardson International Airport, O'Toole criticized the pace of the Liberal government's response to the discovery of the remains.
"Mr. Trudeau I know cares, but he never acts," said O'Toole, adding all Canadians want to see action on reconciliation "after the ocean of tears over the last few months."
O'Toole made that comment after he promised an employment-stimulus program that would cover half the cost of new hires for six months.
He played up his ties to Manitoba, which included his time in the armed forces in Winnipeg and his former membership in the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba.
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O'Toole nonetheless sidestepped a question about whether the low popularity of the Manitoba PCs could harm the Conservatives in the federal election, choosing to highlight his jobs pledge instead.
The Manitoba PCs are expected to select a successor this fall to party leader Brian Pallister, who announced his intention to step down last week.
Conservative MP James Bezan, the incumbent federal candidate in Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, said he is not considering a run for Manitoba PC leader "at this time," but did not rule out a run in the future.
Dumas, speaking outside the Trudeau event, praised Bezan for his work with Indigenous people but noted he has no knowledge of similar work by Heather Stefanson, the only MLA who has declared a PC leadership campaign.
Also outside the Trudeau event, people opposed to pandemic public health measures and COVID-19 vaccines shouted epithets at Liberal supporters, some of whom shouted back.
Dozens of police officers, including canine handlers, stood by but did not intervene.
Patrick Allard, who was charged for his alleged role in organizing a COVID-19 protest in contravention of public health orders, stood quietly along Cavalier Drive while the exchange of words took place.
"I guess because of who I am and the police thinking I'm an influencer — as they told me at my last arrest, for an event that never happened — they asked me to hang back on the sidewalk and perhaps not encourage a disturbance," Allard said in an interview.
He described both the Liberals and Conservatives as left-of-centre parties and said he is supporting the Peoples Party of Canada.
"I believe Maxime Bernier is the only leader standing up for our rights and freedoms and personal choice," Allard said.
There were no protesters outside the O'Toole event.