MONTREAL, September 16 (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seeking to carve out a lead ahead of the September 20 election, accused his main rival on Thursday of showing weak leadership in the fight against COVID-19 .
Opinion polls show Trudeau’s center-left Liberals are on par with center-right Tories led by Erin O’Toole and appear to be on the verge of failing in their bid to win a parliamentary majority in the vote Monday.
Trudeau, 49, noted that O’Toole, 48, hailed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s decision earlier this year to quickly lift public health restrictions in the Western Canadian province.
Kenney, who was a cabinet minister in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government before the Liberals came to power in 2015, backtracked this week after an increase in COVID-19 cases threatened to overload the provincial health system. Kenney apologized and said he would introduce vaccine passports. Read more
“The choices leaders make in a crisis are important… just days ago, Mr. O’Toole again applauded Mr. Kenney for his handling of the pandemic,” Trudeau told reporters in Montreal.
“This is not the leadership we need in Ottawa to end this pandemic for good,” added Trudeau, who supports mandatory vaccination mandates. The Liberal leader runs a minority government that depends on the opposition to pass legislation.
A central part of Trudeau’s campaign speech is that Canada needs a leader who is clear about the need for vaccinations to get through the pandemic.
O’Toole has repeatedly dodged questions about his previous support for Kenney’s approach to COVID-19.
“As premier, I will work with all prime ministers, regardless of their stripe, to fight the pandemic,” he told reporters in Saint John, New Brunswick, saying Trudeau did not shouldn’t have called an election during a pandemic.
A fourth wave of COVID-19, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, continues to increase mainly among the unvaccinated, said Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, at a briefing in Ottawa .
“Hospitalizations could exceed the capacity for care in the affected areas,” she said.
Alberta and neighboring Saskatchewan have one of the worst rates of COVID-19 per capita in Canada.
Trudeau said his government would send ventilators to Alberta. Liberal campaign organizers, citing Kenney’s displeasure, said their party could win three of Alberta’s 34 federal seats after being kicked out in the traditionally right-wing province.
How to deal with COVID-19 has become a challenge for O’Toole. He supports vaccinations, but says he prefers rapid tests to detect the virus rather than vaccination warrants.
The Conservatives risk seeing some support fleeing for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), which is fueling public anger over vaccinations and lockdowns.
PPC leader Maxime Bernier, who also served as a minister in the Harper government, attacked Kenney over his vaccination passport announcement. Bernier tweeted that he would go to the province “to join the Albertans in their fight against this bully.”
A Nanos Research telephone poll of 1,200 Canadians for CTV on Thursday put public support for the Liberals at 31.9%, the Conservatives at 30.3% and the left-wing New Democrats at 22.4%.
Such an outcome could produce an impasse in which no party is able to form even a stable minority government. Trudeau called the election two years earlier, seeking to capitalize on his handling of the pandemic, but the Liberals have yet to shake off voter fatigue.
Trudeau, however, garnered great support from former US President Barack Obama on Thursday, who wished his “friend” all the best for the election.
“Justin has been an effective leader and a strong voice for democratic values, and I am proud of the work we have accomplished together,” Obama said on Twitter.
Reporting by Steve Scherer; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Paul Simao
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