Justin Trudeau is in a fighting mood
|Toronto Star 21 Oct 2021 at 21:19|
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OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have won a minority government in last month’s election, but it seems he’s not finished fighting.
On Thursday, as he laid out a new pandemic benefits program, he took swipes at his federal and provincial conservative rivals, and poked the federal New Democrats in the eye, too — all while insisting he was eager to get back to working with them when Parliament resumes next month.
“I look forward to working with other parties in the House on getting big things done for Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.
Just how well he’s going to work with them is less obvious.
This week, the all-party group of MPs that sets the rules for the House of Commons declared all members of Parliament and their staff members would need to be fully vaccinated before they return to Parliament Hill.
The Conservatives objected, although how — or if — they’ll act on that objection remains to be seen. The party has declined repeated requests from the Star this week for elaboration.
So Trudeau — deploying the same tactics he used during the election campaign — said Erin O’Toole owes Canadians an explanation on two fronts:
The first is why the Conservative leader believes MPs should not be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, considering the vast majority of Canadians are — and that by rejecting vaccination, these elected politicians could potentially be putting the lives of their constituents or colleagues at risk.
The second is why O’Toole also thinks it is imperative that all MPs — including those unvaccinated ones — attend the House of Commons in person.
“There’s a major inconsistency in terms of the Conservatives’ position,” Trudeau charged Thursday.
“Not only do they want non-vaccinated MPs to be allowed to sit in the House of Commons, physically next to those who are vaccinated, but they don’t want a hybrid model, which would allow those who are not vaccinated to take part in the debates in the House of Commons, to represent their constituents, via video.”
How many Conservative MPs are still unvaccinated remains a bit of a mystery. About 65 per cent of caucus members have publicly disclosed that they are fully vaccinated, while one has said they have a medical exemption and another says they are partially vaccinated.
But several Conservative MPs have also told the Star they’ve never been officially asked by the party about their vaccination status. Speculation about how many of their colleagues haven’t had any shots ranges from fewer than five to as many as a dozen.
O’Toole’s office did not respond to repeated requests from the Star on Thursday for answers to the questions posed by Trudeau.
Nor did Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s office respond to Trudeau’s allegation that the fight the premier wants to wage right now over federal equalization payments is no more than a political distraction.
Votes are currently being tallied in a province-wide referendum that asked whether the equalization program should be removed from Canada’s Constitution, a process that would actually require buy-in from the rest of the country.
Trudeau accused Kenney of playing politics, noting he was a federal cabinet minister in the Harper government when the current equalization formula was devised. And, he noted, Alberta is currently receiving a great deal of targeted support from Ottawa.
“We will continue and are continuing right now, with members of the Canadian Red Cross and the Canadian Armed Forces present, to support Alberta through the very difficult times they’re going through,” Trudeau said, before adding that those “very difficult times” were “linked to decisions that the premier himself made and didn’t make over the past few months, resulting in a fourth wave” of COVID-19.
As for how to protect Canadians from the worst economic consequences of that fourth wave, Trudeau was ready to fight about that, too, this week.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh met with Trudeau on Wednesday and told him his government should leave pandemic benefits in place. That didn’t stop Trudeau from announcing Thursday that three emergency programs — the Canada Response Benefit, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy — will be allowed to expire this week.
They’ll be replaced with more targeted programs for those who can’t work because of local lockdowns or who work in specific sectors.
On Wednesday, Singh had suggested that if Liberals cut those benefits, his party’s support of their government would be at risk.
On Thursday, he called the proposed changes “unacceptable.”
“During the election campaign, Justin Trudeau said that he would have Canadians’ backs in this difficult time — for as long as needed,” Singh said.
“But today he has broken that promise.”
Promise or not, the Liberals don’t need the NDP to make those changes, but getting the new, pared-down programs extended would require a bill to pass in the House of Commons. And despite their differences, the Conservatives may be the government’s dance partner. The Tories had already called for the current benefits to be allowed to expire, although their level of enthusiasm for the replacements was hard to immediately gauge.
It has been said that, in returning a Parliament with a very similar makeup to the one before, voters sent a message last month that the parties needed to find a way to get along and work together to get Canadians through the pandemic. If Thursday’s events are any indication, the parties weren’t listening.
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