Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attacked the federal Conservatives on Monday for their stand on COVID-19 vaccinations even though he also urged Liberal MPs to work with other parties to deliver concrete results in the minority Parliament.
He addressed the Liberal caucus on Monday at the party’s first meeting since the federal election seven weeks ago, in which Mr. Trudeau failed to win the majority government he sought. While the Prime Minister talked about the importance of making Parliament work, he did not offer an olive branch to the Conservatives, an indication he does not believe the Official Opposition can be counted on to support the government’s agenda.
“Even as Canadians are continuing to get vaccinated at record rates, the Conservatives are actually moving backward,” he said. “More and more Conservatives are now stepping up to stand against vaccinations, to stand against science.”
A group of MPs in Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s caucus have defended Canadians who refuse COVID-19 vaccination and object to mandates. Last month, a House of Commons committee said all MPs will need to be fully vaccinated to attend the House in person.
“They are saying they should get special treatment because they are MPs, that they don’t need to be protecting the people in their workplaces alongside them. They don’t need to be setting an example for all Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The NDP met at the same time and were expected to discuss whether to form a co-operative agreement with the Liberals to prop up their minority. Mr. Trudeau did not mention the talks with the NDP to the Liberal MPs. Some ministers who spoke with reporters outside the Liberal meeting played down the need for a formal arrangement. But in his speech, the Prime Minister vowed to work with parties that want progressive policies adopted.
“We will be there to work with whomever wants to, to deliver concretely on improving the lives of Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau said. He underscored his party’s plans to implement $10 a day child care, fight climate change more aggressively, tackle the housing crisis and work toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
NDP caucus chair Jenny Kwan said in an interview on Monday that “no agreements” are in place with the Liberals. “New Democrats are here to do our job and to fight for the community,” she said. “We will work with anyone and everyone to fight for the things that people depend on.”
The issues that Ms. Kwan said the NDP is focused on align closely with what Mr. Trudeau outlined. The NDP want to address climate change, homelessness, affordability, supports for seniors and the fourth wave of the pandemic, she said.
At a news conference on Parliament Hill on Monday, Mr. O’Toole warned that any co-operative agreement between the Liberals and NDP would result in runaway spending, higher inflation and serious damage to the economy.
“This coalition will create billions in new spending that will further drive up inflation even more,” Mr. O’Toole said. “And this coalition will mean that Jagmeet Singh will be able to push an even more radical agenda that will threaten the livelihood of millions of Canadians.”
The Conservative Leader said all his MPs who show up for the House of Commons on Nov. 22 will be fully vaccinated, but he would not say how many are unvaccinated. He also criticized Tory MP Marilyn Gladu, who leads a group of MPs defending people who won’t get vaccinated, citing civil liberties concerns. In an interview with CTV on Sunday, Ms. Gladu said COVID-19 is not as serious as polio.
“I was disappointed with Ms. Gladu,” the Conservative Leader said, adding that she caused “confusion and it is not appropriate at a time when we should be answering questions about vaccine hesitancy, not creating new questions.”
He would not say whether he would ask Conservative MPs to remove her from the caucus.
A co-operative agreement was first broached in a meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh last month, and those talks continue, NDP MP Charlie Angus said on Friday. The goal of a potential deal is to avoid a short-lived minority government and allow the Liberals to implement a heavy policy agenda while the NDP negotiate action on issues they believe the government has neglected.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said on Monday the Liberals are taking the “same approach” as they did in the last minority Parliament.
“Last time, the approach was extending a hand to everyone. We made deals with the Conservatives, with the NDP, with the Bloc, sometimes with two, sometimes with three,” he said.
Ontario Liberal MP Terry Sheehan said he “wouldn’t be opposed to a deal” with the NDP, saying Canadians want the government to work with the opposition parties to avoid obstruction tactics that previously delayed legislation and committee reports. In some instances in the last Parliament, however, it was Liberal MPs filibustering investigations into the WE Charity scandal, sexual abuse in the military and demands for information on the firing of two scientists from a high-security laboratory.
Liberal House Leader Mark Holland told reporters on his way into the caucus that the government is open to talks with the NDP and other parties to get key programs passed through Parliament. “You don’t shut doors,” he said.
The House of Commons has not sat since June. When MPs return in two weeks, Mr. Holland said, the government’s priority will be to deal with COVID-19 financial supports.
The Liberals elected Quebec MP Brenda Shanahan as their new caucus chair on Monday. She won her Châteauguay-Lacolle riding by just 12 votes.
With a report from Campbell Clark
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