By Sarah Smellie and Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
The three main federal parties lobbed attacks at each other Saturday, undaunted by the absence of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the sixth day of the federal campaign.
While it is not unusual for party leaders to take a down day on Saturdays because it’s traditionally the day when parties return to home base to regroup, the current election has opened Trudeau up to criticism for launching a campaign as a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.
So it was that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh needed little prompting when reminded of Trudeau’s blank itinerary as he began his day in Toronto.
“I don’t know what his schedule is and why he’s not campaigning … I can just say for me, on housing specifically and on many other things, Trudeau has been missing in action,” Singh said, as he promised a supplement of up to $5,000 for those struggling to pay rent and a crackdown on so-called “renovictions.” .
“He has been missing when it comes to helping people who are struggling with trying to find a place they can rent, (and) with people are struggling to find a place they can buy.”
Trudeau called the election last Sunday, triggering a campaign that will send voters to the polls on Sept. 20.
At a campaign stop in Edmonton, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole faced questions about his own team’s decision to spend the first few days in a downtown Ottawa hotel campaigning on a newly constructed television set.
O’Toole said his “telephone town halls” allowed him to reach more Canadians “than all the other leaders combined” in southwestern Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec. O’Toole said he’s learned as a “COVID era leader” how to connect with Canadians and expose the faults of his Liberal opponent.
“I want to connect with as many Canadians as possible that are worried about more years of division under Mr. Trudeau, more cover ups, more ethical breaches,” he said during a campaign stop in Edmonton.
O’Toole also pledged to work better with provincial premiers “because our country’s become fractured under Mr. Trudeau, in part because there’s always an Ottawa knows best approach.” That, he said, would include Nova Scotia’s new Progressive Conservative Premier Tim Houston who unseated the governing Liberals earlier this week.
“There was a change with the Liberal government that tried to call a snap election in a pandemic,” O’Toole quipped.
The Conservative and Liberal war rooms also volleyed attacks on each other.
The Conservative campaign said it had written to the federal ethics commissioner about former Liberal cabinet minister Judy Sgro, a candidate in the Humber River-Black Creek riding. A party release raises concerns about a reported trip she took to Italy in 2017, which was allegedly funded by the Basilicata Cultural Society of Canada.
“According to proactive disclosures on the website for the Ethics (Commissioner), Sgro never publicly disclosed the name of the third party who sponsored her trip to Italy,” the release said.
Sponsored trips are permitted, but MPs must disclose who paid for them, the release said.
The Liberals did not immediately respond to request for comment on the matter, but did release a letter of their own to O’Toole concerning a separate issue.
The letter was penned by Toronto-area MP Mary Ng, the trade minister when Parliament was dissolved, criticizing the Conservative leader for not backing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for government employees as well as air and rail passengers.
The letter compared O’Toole to Republican politicians in Texas and Florida who have blocked mandatory vaccination.
“If you will not show leadership to protect the health and safety of Canadians, you can’t stand in the way of those who will,” the letter said.
“Will you commit to ensuring that your party, your candidates, and your caucus, will not be permitted to introduce legislation that would ban mandatory vaccine policies or punish businesses and organizations who require their customers and employees to be vaccinated?”
The O’Toole campaign sought to showcase the lack of daylight between the Liberal approach and the Tories’, repeating that a Conservative government would require unvaccinated passengers to present a recent negative test result or pass a rapid test hopping on a bus, plane or ship. Unvaccinated federal public servants would also have submit to a daily test.
“(Under) Justin Trudeau’s plan for federal employees, those who refuse vaccination will need to consider alternative measures, such as testing and screening,” party spokesman Cory Hann said in an email.
“The simple fact is that Justin Trudeau’s plan for federal employees is the same as Erin O’Toole’s.”
The Liberals also highlighted a news release from pro-life group RightNow targeting O’Toole. The group is calling on the Conservative leader to say he will not ask medical professionals to refer patients seeking services like abortion or medical assistance in dying to another provider if they object to performing these procedures themselves.
“Erin O’Toole promised to pro-lifers during the 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership race that he would protect conscience rights of medical professionals across Canada,” said Scott Hayward, co-founder and president of RightNow, in Saturday’s news release.
Hayward and his group want O’Toole to stick to that commitment, the release said.
— With files from Christopher Reynolds in Vancouver