O'Toole eyes post-pandemic election, vows to keep pushing feds on COVID-19 in meantime

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says that while he sees many problems with the Liberal government’s handling of pandemic, he won’t be pushing for an election until the COVID-19 health and economic crisis is under control. When the time comes for Canadians to cast their ballots, he says his party will be ready.

“We have to get through the health and economic crisis of COVID-19 before we go to the polls,” said O’Toole in an interview on CTV’s Question Period with host Evan Solomon.

“I think we will be a clear voice for Canadians that deserve an ethical government with a plan for the future of building Canada, but I don’t think we should have an election, until we’ve rounded that corner in this, the biggest crisis of all our lives,” he said, though the Conservatives have voted against the government on several recent confidence votes that saw the Liberals propped up by other opposition parties.

“I’ve been putting structures in place in our party to make sure we’re ready, we’re united, we’re a government waiting.”

Prime Minister has also indicated he has no desire to call a snap general election anytime soon, but this week, the minority Liberals took a step towards setting up the logistical parameters to do so.

Heeding recommendations from Canada’s chief electoral officer, the government has tabled a series of “temporary” Canada Elections Act changes that would allow weekend voting and an expanded mail-in-voting system, among other health and safety accommodations. 

With the House of Commons now on hiatus until late January, there won’t be a chance to advance these election changes for over a month, meaning under the timeline in the bill, the earliest these new measures could be in place would be late April or early May.

That’s when federal officials say the beginning of Canada’s mass vaccination effort will begin in earnest, eyeing between April and June for up to 19 million people to be immunized for COVID-19. 

By then, it’s likely the federal government will have tabled its 2021 federal budget, which Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has promised will include more details on their plan for a national daycare program, and how the Liberals intend to spend up to $100 billion on economic stimulus.

O’Toole said in this weekend’s interview that he’s anticipating the next election will be fought on which party has the best “plan for the future.”

“We need Canadians working, we need to build things in this country and be proud of getting people back to work. That’s, I think, what the next election will be about,” he said. “We have to send a signal that jobs and investment are welcome in our country coming out of the pandemic.”

O’Toole said that is where his ongoing opposition to the federal carbon tax is coming from.

With new details unveiled last week that include a decade of increases to the federal carbon tax as part of the plan to reduce emissions and meet Canada’s climate targets, O’Toole said that “taxation in a time of crisis is not a solution.”

O’Toole said his party will offer a “serious” approach to climate change. During his leadership campaign he took the position that it should be up to the provinces and territories to decide how they want to tackle their greenhouse gas emissions, and the federal government should go after the large emitters.

“The environment matters a lot to me. I worked on these issues in the private sector, as a dad to young kids it’s important,” said O’Toole.

CRITICAL OF COVID-19 RESPONSE

As the Official Opposition, the Conservatives have been critical of the Liberals’ pandemic response, and O’Toole said his caucus intends to keep that up in the months ahead.

While he said that the initial vaccines landing in Canada imminently—and considerably earlier than some Conservative MPs had speculated—is a “great first step,” he’s still waiting for a full plan on the vaccine rollout.

Last week in the House of Commons a Conservative motion passed unanimously that called on the government to table a detailed plan by Dec. 16, that includes the date for each vaccine to be deployed in Canada, despite the uncertainty around the timing of Health Canada approval, which is necessary before any shots can be given to Canadians. 

“The fact that government was being secretive about how many will be arriving by month? Do we have the refrigeration to keep the Pfizer vaccine at -70 C? How will Indigenous communities, how will the North, some rural parts of our country, get distribution? There’s still a lot of questions,” O’Toole said.

“We see a lot of clarity now coming on some key questions but we need full details, that’s what Canadians want to go into the holidays knowing.”

He also said that the fast action to see the military play a key role, and to have initial vaccine doses delivered before the end of the year, is the result of his party pushing for more information.

“This is an example where the opposition has to challenge, push for a faster, smarter response. I think we’ve done that, not only on vaccines but on rapid tests. I want Canada to succeed so I’m happy we’re getting some vaccines a little bit early, but let’s use these small number [of doses] to test our system so that we can hit the ground running in the new year.”

At various points in the interview O’Toole referred to the initial doses of the vaccines as “samples,” however the doses arriving in Canada within hours are not samples, they are the first doses of millions that Canada has ordered of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that has been approved by Health Canada.

Asked repeatedly whether he’d be condemning those who are anti-vaccination, after one of his MPs advanced a petition questioning, without evidence, the science of COVID-19 vaccines, O’Toole didn’t directly respond, saying the questions from “grassroots Canadians” with concerns are understandable.

“I think the reason why there’s more questions than ever, people are worried, they get information on social media and other things, so we have to provide that information and clarity. And, so I’ve tried to be very clear the reason I’m asking for a public plan on vaccines is because the Conservative Party, all of us, think it’s a critical tool our country needs,” he said.

O’Toole—who experienced COVID-19 firsthand this fall— added that he trusts the authorization from Health Canada, thinks vaccines will help Canada turn a corner in the fight against the novel coronavirus, and he will be getting immunized when the time comes.  

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