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Federal Conservative party leader Erin O'Toole gives a thumbs up at a rally during his election campaign tour in Waterloo, Ont., on Sept. 18, 2021.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says the Tories are running a safe campaign during a pandemic, but he is refusing to elaborate on the party’s refusal to release information on the vaccination status of candidates.

During a news conference Saturday in the Hamilton-area district of Flamborough, Ont., Mr. O’Toole faced multiple questions about why the vast majority of Conservative candidates are not disclosing whether they have been vaccinated.

But Mr. O’Toole sidestepped those questions and instead spoke generally about the party’s approach to campaigning in a pandemic, including rapid testing, masking, social distancing and a commitment to follow local health rules.

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“Here’s something interesting,” he said. “We’ve followed [the rules].”

“We have run the most safe campaign,” Mr. O’Toole said, without elaborating.

The Conservative Leader is the only leader of a major federal party not to disclose the vaccination status of his candidates.

Asked why Canadians should believe in Mr. O’Toole’s commitment to appoint a fully vaccinated health minister if the Conservatives form government when he is not planning to ask candidates if they are vaccinated, Mr. O’Toole talked about the value of vaccines, previous Liberal interest in partnering with China on vaccines and Conservative commitments to ensure Canada is prepared for a pandemic.

The NDP and Bloc Québécois say their candidates are vaccinated and the Liberals say all but one of their candidates – someone with a medical exemption – are vaccinated.

The Globe and Mail contacted all Conservative candidates who had publicly listed e-mail addresses and asked the party for the vaccination status of the candidates who did not have public e-mail addresses. The party did not respond.

Of the party’s 336 candidates, 49 (15 per cent) said they are fully vaccinated. The remainder did not respond to The Globe.

The Conservative Leader is expected to spend the last days of campaigning in ridings in Southwestern Ontario. On Saturday, events were planned in three ridings: two held by the Liberals and one with a Conservative incumbent. He was scheduled to end the day with a rally in Kitchener.

At an evening rally in Kitchener, Rick Hillier, the former chief of the defence staff, endorsed Mr. O’Toole as the best choice for prime minister, saying he has been impressed with the talents of the former veterans affairs minister in the 15 years he has known him.

Mr. Hillier was in the audience for the rally at a downtown hotel ballroom and offered his support afterwards in a scrum with reporters.

“Erin O’Toole is the leader that Canada needs going forward here,” he said, noting this is his first political endorsement.

“I believe we can do better than we are now as a country, and I believe he is the individual to lead us to that.”

Mr. Hillier said he has been considering his endorsement for months.

He criticized the “needless election” Canada is experiencing, echoing a line of rhetorical attack Mr. O’Toole has used against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, and the shortcomings in Canada’s efforts to facilitate the exit of Afghans who helped Canada.

Asked about the lack of information on the vaccination of Conservative candidates, Gen. Hillier encouraged everyone to be vaccinated, but noted the issue of the party’s approach is best left to the party.

“I’ve got no comment on that,” he said.

Mr, O’Toole said the only way to defeat Mr. Trudeau is to vote Conservative.

Canadians head to the polls on Monday, though many have already voted in advance polls or through mail-in ballots.


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