Politics

O'Toole says Trudeau shouldn't rush into an election with threat of a fourth wave looming

Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole said Monday that with COVID-19 case counts rising in many provinces as the potent delta strain takes hold, it's not the right time to plunge the country into a federal election campaign.

PM 'always seems to put his own self-interest ahead of the interest of Canadians,' Conservative leader says

Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole says that with coronavirus cases increasing in several provinces, now is not the right time to have a federal election. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole said Monday with COVID-19 case counts rising in many provinces as the potent delta strain takes hold, it's not the right time to plunge the country into a federal election campaign.

Speaking to reporters at a campaign-style stop in Belleville, Ont., O'Toole said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is only considering an election now — just two years into his mandate — because of his "own self-interest." CBC's Poll Tracker suggests the governing Liberals have a sizable lead over the opposition parties in national polling.

"My biggest concern right now is the potential fourth wave of COVID-19," O'Toole said. "We shouldn't be rushing to an election. Mr. Trudeau always seems to put his own self-interest ahead of the interest of Canadians."

While not yearning for an election, O'Toole said the Conservatives are well-prepared for a campaign that could start as soon as this week.

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The parties have been busy nominating candidates — the Liberal Party declared a state of "electoral urgency" months ago to quickly name candidates in the country's 338 ridings ahead of a vote — and raising money for an election campaign that can be no shorter than 36 days.

"We will be ready but we do think the health and economic security of Canadians must come first," O'Toole said, adding the government should be focusing its energies on supporting pandemic-ravaged industries like the tourism sector rather than planning for an election that few people want.

O'Toole said that in order to address some of the COVID-induced economic disruptions in rural Canada, a government led by him would fast-track the rollout of high-speed internet countrywide to bring reliable connections to all rural and remote communities by 2025.

The federal government has earmarked billions of dollars already to bring speedy internet to rural areas. O'Toole said the current timeline is insufficient.

O'Toole also promised to commit more federal infrastructure spending to rural areas — places he said are central to "Canada's economy, culture and way of life."

"Rural Canada has been neglected by the Liberals. With Canada's Conservatives, help is on the way," O'Toole said.

Cases rising

After a lull in new COVID-19 cases, a number of the larger provinces have reported an increase in new infections in recent days.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reported a 43 per cent increase in the number of new cases last week, with 705 cases being reported each day during the week of July 25.

With the current high rate of vaccination coverage, however, the number of new deaths reported is still much lower than it was during earlier phases of the pandemic. PHAC documented fewer than 10 deaths a day during the final week of July, well off the mid-April highs.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visits the Parkdale Public Market in Ottawa with Angella MacEwen, left, the NDP candidate for Ottawa Centre, on Aug. 5, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the uptick in new COVID-19 cases is a "troubling" development and it should give the prime minister second thoughts about calling an election.

"I've said I want to make a decision that's in the best interest of Canadians and you'd think, in a pandemic, the Liberals would think the same way as well. It looks like they're more interested in power than doing what's in the best interest of Canadians," he said.

"I think we should be focused on getting people the help they need and not going to an election."

Singh said Trudeau's past claim that Parliament has been dysfunctional is simply false. He pointed out that the government was able to broker deals with opposition parties to pass pandemic relief measures and a budget.

Legislation stalled

In June, Trudeau described Parliament as a place marked by "toxicity" and "obstructionism," blaming the opposition parties for stalling government bills like one that would ban conversion therapy and another that would overhaul the Broadcasting Act, legislation that did not make it through the Senate before the summer recess.

In a letter sent to Trudeau Monday, Singh said he's concerned that the government is misleading Canadians about Parliament's work to "justify a snap election." NDP MPs routinely backed pandemic-related legislation, Singh said, while also pushing to make some of the COVID-19 aid programs more generous.

"You had to negotiate improvements to these benefits to get our support. This isn't a symptom of 'dysfunction.' This is Parliament working the way Canadians expect it to — MPs from different parties working together in a time of crisis.

"If Parliament is dysfunctional, then you yourself have played a leading role in that dysfunction. Telling Canadians that a minority government can't work is misleading and breeds cynicism in our democracy," Singh said.

Singh said his party will be ready if an early election is called. Compared to the Liberal and Conservatives parties, however, the NDP has far fewer candidates nominated — slightly more than 100, compared to well above 200 for the other two main parties. Singh said his party has much more money to spend on this campaign than it did in the 2019 contest.

"We're absolutely ready," he said, adding that the party's campaign message will be that the "ultra rich" need to pay more in taxes to better fund social programs and pay off pandemic debts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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