Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scolded Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday for levelling “personal attacks” at him in new political ads, while also saying the federal government is willing to talk to the province about its demands for tighter border controls.
At a news conference in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau was asked about the campaign-style ads launched this week by Mr. Ford’s provincial Progressive Conservative Party. The ads accuse the Liberal federal government of failing to close borders to stop new variants of COVID-19 from entering the country.
“I recognize … the pressures that are on all Ontarians and that leaders are under a certain amount of stress right now, and some will choose to point fingers and lay blame and even engage in personal attacks,” Mr. Trudeau said. “That’s not my approach and that’s not, quite frankly, what Ontarians need.”
The Prime Minister said he was willing to work with Mr. Ford on tightening border restrictions. But Mr. Trudeau said his government has already limited most international travel to Canada, with exceptions that include temporary foreign workers, agricultural workers and those allowed in for compassionate reasons.
He said the Ford government had failed to follow up on a request the Premier made in a conversation last week about restricting the entry of international students. (Mr. Ford’s office said last week it had not made a “formal request” about international students.) Mr. Trudeau said Ontario has admitted 30,000 foreign students in recent months, because the students had been approved by the provincial government.
The federal Liberal Party also sent out a fundraising e-mail this week that links what it calls Mr. Ford’s “nasty” attack ads to federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. Asked about this, Mr. Trudeau said Canadians expect politics to continue, but that he was focused on fighting the pandemic: “Our priority is supporting Ontarians, not politics. I think Canadians can see that.”
He added he was pleased that Ontario had “finally” brought in paid sick days and was directing more vaccines to hot spots, clear references to the mounting criticism Mr. Ford has faced in recent weeks for his handling of the pandemic.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, Ivana Yelich, said the province’s requests for better border controls are well documented in series of letters sent to Ottawa – letters to which she said Queen’s Park has received no reply.
Those measures include requiring predeparture COVID-19 tests for passengers on domestic flights, in addition to those mandated for international arrivals. Ontario has also called for an end to what it says are loopholes that allow travellers to avoid Ottawa’s mandatory hotel quarantine stays. Since the rules only apply at airports, some people are flying into the U.S. and entering Canada at land crossings.
Ms. Yelich said that last December, Ontario was forced by federal inaction to bring in its own testing program at Pearson International Airport. Ottawa then set up federal screening for international arrivals. (But earlier in December, Mr. Ford had also called for a reduction to Ottawa’s 14-day quarantine requirement for international travellers.)
She also said Ottawa ended enhanced screening for passengers from Brazil, where one of the new variants originated, and only banned direct flights from India and Pakistan after a new variant first identified there had already entered Canada.
“The Premier has said he will use every tool at his disposal to protect Ontarians. This is an extremely urgent situation and we need the federal government to act now,” Ms. Yelich wrote in an e-mail. “We cannot sit back and watch the fourth wave of COVID-19 walk across our border.”
Many public-health experts, including those critical of the Ford government, have said more needs to be done to tighten borders against the threat of new variants.
Meanwhile, the two bickering governments were co-operating on another element of pandemic response: rapid COVID-19 tests. Ontario and the federal government announced a plan on Friday to ship 760,000 rapid antigen tests to small and medium-sized businesses across the province.
Mr. Trudeau said 40 Shoppers Drug Mart stores, mostly in virus hot spots, will also distribute the tests to small businesses. The move was praised by business groups, including the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which said such a move was integral to reopening the economy.
Despite receiving millions of rapid tests from the federal government, provinces have been slow to embrace them. Ontario has distributed 7.6 million rapid tests to essential workplaces so far, the province said, out of more than 11 million it has received during the pandemic. But only 1.35 million have been reported to Health Canada as being used, according to federal government data.
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