In a fiery speech, O'Toole says Canada is 'drowning in debt and division' on Trudeau's watch
Speech to caucus comes as O'Toole faces an internal challenge to his leadership
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole painted a bleak picture of Canada's future in a fiery speech to his caucus colleagues Wednesday, accusing the re-elected Liberal government of fuelling inflation and regional divisions at a delicate time.
During a 12-minute address to kick off the new Parliament, O'Toole said the Opposition Conservatives "won't stay silent" while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau threatens the country's prosperity and national unity with big government spending and an anti-oil and gas agenda.
O'Toole said Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have formed a "coalition" to push through left-wing legislation that he said will prove to be "disastrous" for the country.
The two parties have ruled out any formal agreement but Singh has said he will support some upcoming Liberal bills, such as one imposing a ban on conversion therapy — the discredited practice of forcibly "converting" LGBTQ people to heterosexuality — and new criminal sanctions for anti-vaccination protests at hospitals, among others.
O'Toole also accused the Liberals of ignoring blue collar workers grappling with a sudden surge in consumer prices as inflation hits levels not seen since the early 2000s. O'Toole blamed the government's COVID-related spending for this "crisis" and said Tuesday's throne speech proposed no solutions to tamp down price increases.
Experts contend inflation in Canada and much of the Western world is tied to generous COVID-19 relief programs, constrained supply chains, limited energy stockpiles and a pandemic-fuelled labour shortage that has pushed up wages.
While central bankers like Tiff Macklem, the governor of the Bank of Canada, have suggested inflation would be "transitory," economy-wide price increases are proving to be more resilient. Statistics Canada's consumer price index rose 4.7 per cent on a year-over-year basis in October — the largest gain since February 2003.
And with Canada's home prices hitting even more eye-popping levels, O'Toole accused the Liberal government of standing idle as more and more young people give up on the dream of owning a home.
WATCH: O'Toole addresses his caucus a day after throne speech
"What is Justin Trudeau's response? Instead of standing up for Canadians, we have a prime minister who always puts his own needs ahead of yours," he said.
As promised in the last election, the Liberal government is expected to introduce a suite of new incentives for first-time homebuyers in the coming weeks to help address sky-high average real estate prices.
Later in question period, O'Toole said Trudeau is either ignorant about inflation or "just doesn't care" that families are struggling with higher bills.
Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen pressed Trudeau to tell the Commons when he last filled a car with gas or bought a can of beans or a package of bacon, calling the prime minister "out of touch" with the realities of everyday life.
"Everybody knows what the No Name brand is, except maybe the prime minister. The only thing he might be worried about is if the price of surfboards goes up," Bergen said — a reference to the prime minister's preferred water sport.
WATCH: Candice Bergen questions the prime minister on inflation
Trudeau said the Conservatives are fixated on "scoring cheap political points," adding the government is "extremely concerned about the rising cost of living."
The prime minister then touted his plan to flow billions of dollars to the provinces to bring down the cost of child care. "When will the prime minister stop just talking about day care?" Bergen said in response.
Trudeau 'shockingly silent' on threats to pipelines: O'Toole
O'Toole also took aim at the government's pledge to place a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector. The measure — part of government efforts to meet its commitment to cut Canada's emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — would limit growth in Alberta's oil patch.
O'Toole said Trudeau and his team are unfairly targeting what he described as "the cleanest, most ethical, most environmentally conscious and most Indigenous-engaged energy sector in the world."
He said Trudeau has been "shockingly silent" about environmental activist David Suzuki's controversial warning that "pipelines will be blown up" if political leaders do not act on climate change.
"What is happening in this country when the prime minister won't condemn language like this?" O'Toole said. "Instead of uniting, the Liberal government has been dividing. Instead of building up, the Liberal government is intent on closing down."
Trudeau is leading an "ideological cabinet that is focused on shutting down industries and stopping investment in our country at a time when Canada is drowning in debt and division," O'Toole said, adding that Conservatives are "the only party standing up for Canadians."
O'Toole pressed the PM in question period to condemn Suzuki's comments. "Any remarks that advocate for or serve to instigate violence are unproductive and potentially dangerous," Trudeau said.
O'Toole's aggressive speech to caucus comes as he faces an internal challenge to his leadership.
Conservative Sen. Denise Batters launched a petition last week calling for an expedited leadership review after the party sustained what she called "significant losses" in the last federal election.
O'Toole kicked her out of the national caucus but her Senate colleagues have kept her in the Conservative fold in the Red Chamber.
Only a week after its launch, the petition has already gathered more than 5,000 signatures, according to a spokesperson for Batters. The petition's latest high-profile endorsement came from former Conservative Party national councillor Sam Magnus, who held a leadership role in the party for more than a decade.
Under the party's constitution, a referendum can be launched if five per cent of Conservative members sign a petition calling on the party to poll the membership on an issue. Batters has 90 days to collect enough signatures to push the party to hold a referendum on an O'Toole leadership review. The party's president, Rob Batherson, said last week the petition is "out of order."
O'Toole is also still dealing with vaccine-related caucus issues. Liberal Government House Leader Mark Holland is calling for a more stringent review of the "medical exemptions" some Tory MPs have claimed to avoid getting a COVID-19 shot.
O'Toole has refused to say how many of his caucus colleagues have been able to bypass the Commons vaccine mandate by claiming an exemption. According to the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), the committee of MPs that essentially governs the House, an MP can be exempted if they have proof of "a medical contraindication to full vaccination."
Speaking to reporters after the Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday, Holland said he's heard from MPs with compromised immune systems "on all sides" of the Commons who are concerned about the presence of unvaccinated MPs in the tightly packed Commons chamber.
"I think Canadians expect for us to get down to the business of the country. They think we've spent long enough debating the issue of whether or not people should be vaccinated," Holland said.
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