Justin Trudeau – If there’s a federal election soon, Erin O’Toole says he won’t be the one who causes it
OTTAWA–Canada’s economic recovery after COVID-19 will be the ballot-box question when Canadians next go to the polls, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says.
Just don’t expect him to force an election any time soon.
Speaking with the Star’s editorial board on Monday, O’Toole framed the next election as a choice between which party voters will trust to revive the post-pandemic economy.
“The ballot question is who will get our economy back on track,” said O’Toole.
“I don’t think it will be, ‘What would you have done better six months ago?’ It’s about how we’re going to recover and get life back to normal, secure that prosperity.”
That suggests the Conservative leader is hoping the next election will come later rather than sooner, after the public health crisis is in hand and Canadians can turn their attention to a more traditional political concern: the economy.
That would also allow O’Toole to continue to criticize the Liberal government’s handling of the vaccine rollout without explaining how a Conservative government would do better.
“When the election comes, we are already committed to (the Liberals) plan,” O’Toole said, when asked for his plan to improve vaccine procurement and distribution.
“I’ve shared throughout the last year, on many occasions, what I would’ve done differently, and I’m frustrated by it. But now my singular focus is going to be that economic recovery,” he said. “We need to be focused on that as the vaccines come.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have repeatedly insisted Canada is on track to vaccinate the vast majority of Canadians by September.
But early problems with deliveries of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, coupled with other countries’ comparative successes with their vaccination programs, has led to a growing chorus of criticism and concern over Canada’s ability to secure a stable supply of vaccines.
A recent Abacus Data poll showed declining faith in the government’s ability to procure COVID-19 vaccines. Asked about the federal government’s performance in securing vaccines, 44 per cent of respondents said Ottawa is doing a “poor” or “terrible” job — a 19 percentage point jump from early January.
Nationally, the Feb. 5 Abacus poll put the Liberals and Conservatives neck-and-neck nationally, with 32 per cent support and 31 per cent support respectively, reflecting a precipitous drop for the governing Liberals over the last three months.
But O’Toole suggested he wouldn’t try and capitalize on a perceived dissatisfaction with the Liberals any time soon.
“I don’t think (the election) should be held as we’re trying to deal with the second wave of pandemic, when there’s curfews not far from me at night in Quebec. We need the vaccines,” O’Toole said.
The next election, he said, “should be at a time when the country is not in this acute state of crisis.”
He framed voters’ choice as one of competing economic visions for a post-pandemic era. Trudeau and the Liberals have repeatedly said they want to “build back better” after the COVID-19 crisis — not merely to return to previous economic levels, but to improve environmental standards and address inequality in the process.
O’Toole again referred to those ambitions as reckless “experimentation.” In contrast, he said his party will put forward a plan to “get our economy back on track” and “secure (a) future of prosperity.”
While that may be the Conservatives’ goal, they have yet to outline any plan to accomplish it. O’Toole told the Star that he will be releasing some of those economic policies in advance of the party’s March policy convention.
But O’Toole said the party will not be in a rush to claw back the massive deficits accrued by the Liberals’ to support Canadians through the COVID-19 crisis, suggesting it could take a decade to wind down those supports.
For now, the Conservative leader said he accepts that the crisis has required a greater role for government in Canadians’ lives.