O’Toole refuses to say whether Kenney got it wrong on COVID-19 management

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole refused to say Thursday whether he still thinks Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has handled the pandemic better than the federal government, as the province faces a rapidly worsening COVID-19 situation.

After Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh both addressed the newly-announced restrictions in that province and Kenney’s about-face on vaccine passports, O’Toole repeatedly dodged reporters’ questions on the matter.

“Throughout this crisis, all the provinces have tried to make the balance between making public health paramount and balancing off the economic needs. All provinces have shifted and adjusted based on various reasons,” O’Toole said, speaking at a curling club in Saint John, N.B.

“But what the provinces have not had is a consistent and reliable partner in Ottawa. Mr. Trudeau fights with people. I will fight for Canadians, and we would never have let the Delta variant get its hold in Canada.”

Over the course of the pandemic O’Toole has spoken positively about how his former Harper-era cabinet colleague Kenney has handled the pandemic, and has suggested his party could take lessons from Alberta’s stickhandling of the ongoing health crisis.

Last fall, before the mass vaccination effort got underway and prior to Kenney lifting most COVID-19 restrictions in July, O’Toole said in a video that “Premier Kenney has navigated this COVID-19 pandemic far better than the federal government has.”

Asked Thursday whether that is still his view, O’Toole pivoted to talking about Trudeau calling a pandemic election and suggested what Canadians are focused on is not the increasingly at-capacity ICUs in Alberta, but why the country is in a federal election campaign.

“So what Canadians have to realize is this election is about a choice. The prime minister who ignored the Delta variant and called an election, a $600-million election, or someone who will make sure we’re ready, that has a plan to make sure we never again caught slow and unprepared for a pandemic,” he said.

On Wednesday evening, Kenney held a press conference where he apologized for his government’s pandemic approach and admitted was the “wrong” path.

“I know that we had all hoped this summer that we could put COVID behind us once and for all, that was certainly my hope and I said that very clearly,” said Kenney.

“It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize.”

Kenney declared a state of public health emergency as active COVID-19 cases surpass 18,000, the most of any province.

Kenney said 90 per cent of patients in Alberta’s intensive care units are unvaccinated. The province set a pandemic high for the number of ICU admissions on Tuesday with 212.

Speaking on the campaign trail in Montreal on Thursday, Trudeau said while he’s not in the position to judge Alberta’s approach to containing the spread of COVID-19, the crisis there is proof that “leadership matters.”

The Liberal leader called the situation “heartbreaking” and said he has spoken with the Clerk of the Privy Council to ensure the province’s needs are met as it battles the fourth wave.

“Ventilators are on the way. Anything more we can do whether it’s sending more medical professionals as we did in Ontario a few months ago when they were overwhelmed, we’re going to make sure Albertans get the support,” he said.

“I think what Canadians see in this is leadership matters at whatever level, the choices we make on who to elect to lead the government through a time of crisis…dictates how we’re going to do.”

Trudeau said he understands the concerns Canadians may have that “Conservative politicians across this country haven’t been as effective in fighting this pandemic.”

“The question I have then for people is ‘do you really want Erin O’Toole to be sitting across from them at the premiers’ table, talking about how we end this pandemic when he himself can’t stand up to the anti-vaxxers in his own party?’” he said.

Singh said Kenney “did not show leadership” with regards to the pandemic and that an NDP government would consider all tools available at the federal level to end the fourth wave.

He then pivoted and placed blame on Trudeau for calling an election during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Mr. Trudeau called an election in the midst of a fourth wave, an election that did not need to happen,” Singh said, speaking to reporters in Toronto.

With a file from CTV News’ Edmonton staff

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