A Quebec Liberal MP has broken from party policy on the pandemic, saying that the Liberal government should not dismiss concerns about public-health measures or demonize skeptics.
Former parliamentary secretary Joël Lightbound, who represents the riding of Louis-Hébert, told an Ottawa news conference Tuesday that protesters who have been in the country’s capital for 12 days should go home. But he said his own party has politicized COVID-19, and a clear timeline to bring restrictions to an end is necessary.
“It’s time to stop with the divisions and distraction,” he said.
After a discussion Tuesday with Steven MacKinnon, the government whip, Mr. Lightbound resigned as the chair of the Quebec Liberal caucus. Mr. MacKinnon said that Mr. Lightbound would remain in the Liberal caucus. “He has expressed clear confidence in the government,” Mr. MacKinnon said in a tweet.
The federal Liberals have been under political pressure over the prolonged protests in Ottawa. Throughout Question Period on Tuesday, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen referred to Mr. Lightbound’s comments on the need to end divisiveness, politicization and mandates. She said the Conservatives could not agree more.
“The Prime Minister has politicized the pandemic and been divisive,” she said. “Even his own members are seeing it.”
In response, Justin Trudeau said that everyone is “sick and tired of lockdowns” and other measures that have been in place throughout the pandemic. He said that Canadians have continued to step up over the past two years, including to get vaccinated.
“We’re going to continue to protect people’s lives,” he said.
Mr. Lightbound said Tuesday that a number of other countries, including Ireland, Britain, Denmark and Switzerland, have or are currently removing measures such as vaccine passports, leaving Canadians confused about what is happening in this country.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said Tuesday that everyone is entitled to their views, but in a team sport, those thoughts should be expressed in private.
“I think saving lives is much more than a political debate,” he said. “It’s a fact and it’s something we need to do. It’s something we’ve been relentless in doing over the last two years, and if Canadians think that’s politicizing the debate, I think they need to screw their heads on better.”
While the “Freedom Convoy” began with a stated opposition to a federal vaccination mandate for truck drivers crossing the border, concerns of protesters are wide-ranging, including the need to end all mandates.
On Monday evening, one of the protest organizers said it’s time for negotiations. “Let’s get at a table for God’s sake. Enough hiding,” Tom Marazzo told a news conference that was shared on social media. “I’m willing to sit at a table with the Conservatives and the NDP and the Bloc as a coalition. I’ll sit with the Governor-General.”
On Sunday, the City of Ottawa declared a state of emergency in response to the prolonged demonstrations. A day later, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson also asked the federal government and the province to provide an additional 1,800 personnel to help bring the situation under control.
Mr. Watson tweeted on Tuesday that he had had “constructive discussions” during the afternoon with Mr. Trudeau, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino about necessary next steps “including the commitment of additional resources, to put an end to the ongoing occupation in Ottawa’s downtown core.” The mayor did not elaborate.
Mr. Trudeau has made it clear that he has no intentions to meet with protesters.
Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell said Tuesday that one challenge is that nearly 25 per cent of 418 trucks still involved in the demonstration downtown include children. He said this is something that greatly concerns the police service and that it is working with the Children’s Aid Society. He also cited concerns about the environment such as sanitation, the level of noise and exposure to fumes.
Deputy Chief Bell also said an individual from the U.S. was arrested Monday after fake threats were made with the intention to “deceive and distract” emergency response teams.
Mr. Lightbound said Tuesday that it is time for the truckers to leave Ottawa and let local residents have their neighbourhood and quality of life back. Downtown residents also have the right to peace and order, and the demonstrations have lasted long enough, he added.
“No one wants this to escalate, and protesters should now show some goodwill,” he said.
He also said he condemns “hideous” acts and symbols on display at the protests. Nazi and Confederate flags have no place in Canada and are symbols of hate and intolerance, he added. Mr. Lightbound called out far-right groups involved in the protests and said he has “absolutely no sympathy” for them.
Mr. Lightbound said, however, that he has heard from hundreds of individuals who have nothing to do with the Ottawa demonstrations. He said that for the most part, they are vaccinated, have followed public-health advice and have concerns about prolonged mandates.
Provinces including Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec all plan to proceed with the lifting of provincial restrictions. During an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr. Trudeau said “pandemic restrictions are not forever.” The federal government has instituted a number of measures, such as requirements for all travellers on trains and planes to be vaccinated.
On the Ottawa demonstrations, the Prime Minister said people have the right to demonstrate in this country and disagree with the government. But he said individuals are trying “to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives.”
“It has to stop,” he said. “The people of Ottawa don’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighbourhoods. They don’t deserve to be confronted with the inherent violence of a swastika flying on a street corner, or a Confederate flag, or the insults and jeers just because they’re wearing a mask.”
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