Conservative opposition to mandatory vaccinations is 'irresponsible' and 'dangerous,' says Trudeau

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau continued his push to make mandatory vaccination an election issue Friday calling the Conservative opposition to such a regime "irresponsible" and "dangerous," while urging the party to mandate that all of their candidates get a shot.

Liberal Leader says Canadians need to re-elect his government to protect the country's health

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau held a campaign event at a grocery store in Winnipeg, Friday, where he said the Conservative Party's opposition to mandatory vaccinations is 'dangerous.' (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau continued his push to make mandatory vaccination an election issue Friday calling the Conservative opposition to such a regime "irresponsible" and "dangerous," while urging the party to mandate that all of their candidates get a shot.

Speaking to reporters at a campaign stop in Winnipeg, where he announced new sick pay benefits, Trudeau said "protecting Canadians is job one of the government," and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's pledge to make the unvaccinated take rapid tests rather than shots is a "mistake" that threatens public health.

In his strongest rhetoric to date, Trudeau said Canada "can't afford the Conservative party's approach that denies science and peddles disinformation on public health measures." Trudeau did not mention any specifics.

"And let's not even get started on vaccines. Scrapping our commitment to make sure everyone on a plane or a train is vaccinated? That's not just irresponsible. That's dangerous," Trudeau said.

Trudeau said vaccine holdouts, like those in the Conservative fold, are putting children at risk. With COVID-19 shots currently restricted to people 12 and older, Trudeau said "adults need to do their part and go get vaccinated to keep kids safe" as summer break comes to a close.

At a Calgary rally late Thursday, Trudeau gave a fiery stump speech saying Canadians need to re-elect his government to protect the country from the unvaccinated.

"You know what? If you don't want to get vaccinated that's your choice, but don't think you can get on a plane or a train next to vaccinated people and put them at risk," he said. "We need to be strong. We need to put people first."

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, who was also in Winnipeg today to promote his jobs plan, said Trudeau is running his campaign like he ran the government; with a focus on "misleading" and "dividing" Canadians by politicizing the vaccines.

"Out of the gate, in this pandemic election that no one other than Justin Trudeau wanted, every day, he has been trying to divide people," O'Toole said. "I will always defend the rights of Canadians."

Tests vs. vaccines

O'Toole said he's had both of his shots, he filmed the immunization to encourage supporters to roll up their sleeves and he believes vaccines are the best way to bring this health crisis to an end, but he said he just doesn't believe in forcing people to get a shot.

The federal government has announced that, starting as soon as next month, all federal public servants and workers in some federally regulated industries like airlines and railways must be vaccinated.

Ottawa has also said, sometime this fall, the vaccine mandate will apply to all travellers on commercial planes and trains.

O'Toole is opposed to these requirements. Rather than require public servants and travellers to get a shot, O'Toole has said, if elected, he'd demand they pass a rapid test before going to work or boarding a bus, train, plane or ship.

While the Conservative Party has said it will follow all public health guidelines during this campaign, unlike the NDP and Liberal parties, it is not requiring its candidates get shots before meeting voters.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole greets employees at a trucking company while campaigning in Winnipeg, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. O'Toole says Trudeau is dividing Canadians by politicizing the COVID-19 vaccine. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

"The difference between what we're offering and what the Conservatives want to do is stark," Trudeau said today.

"Conservatives won't tell Canadians that all their candidates are vaccinated because not all of them are obviously, but also, they are not going to be enforcing people to be fully vaccinated to go on planes and trains in the coming months. We think that's a mistake."

Liberal candidate Jim Carr, who's running for re-election in Winnipeg South Centre, sent a letter to O'Toole asking him to follow the lead of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who recently kicked an unvaccinated MPP out of his caucus, and expel candidates who refuse a shot.

"It's never too late to do the right thing," Carr said.

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Asked if it was hypocritical for him to hammer the Conservatives on vaccines while his campaign routinely flouts physical distancing guidelines, Trudeau said members of his campaign team are wearing masks, getting rapid tests and following local health measures "as much as possible, as much as everyone else is across the country."

All of the major party leaders are campaigning on the Prairies today.

Beyond the stop in Winnipeg, where the Liberal party holds four seats, Trudeau travelled to Regina. Trudeau is trying to win back the urban riding of Regina-Wascana, a seat that was long held by former MP Ralph Goodale who came up short in the last election.

The Prairie battleground

The party produced poor results in the Prairie region in the 2019 vote, a stumble largely attributed to environmental policies that were widely perceived as anti-oil and gas.

After his Winnipeg stop, O'Toole travelled to Saskatoon where the Conservatives are trying to hold off an NDP challenge. In elections past, the NDP routinely won seats in Saskatchewan but have been shut out in recent years as the party's power base has shifted to central Canada. The Conservatives hold all 14 seats in Saskatchewan.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is there today to revive NDP fortunes in the province — the birthplace of the party. Singh visited the Cowessess First Nation, a community where a preliminary investigation suggests former residential school students are buried.

The CBC's Poll Tracker suggests the Conservatives have a sizable lead in the prairie provinces.


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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