Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is defending holding a packed event in Brampton with 400 people on Tuesday evening, saying the event was in keeping with provincial guidelines.
Mr. Trudeau, who was in Halifax on Wednesday to emphasize his party’s health care plans, including COVID-19 vaccinations and efforts to put an end to the pandemic, said the Liberals followed all regulations around capacity because it is necessary to follow guidelines “as we get through this.”
“At the same time, we need to recognize that close to 80 per cent of Canadians have done the right thing, gotten themselves vaccinated, those who are eligible,” Mr. Trudeau said. “That means, that for those people, being able to come back to doing the things we love is more and more of a possibility.”
The pandemic has been a key element of this election campaign, including lingering questions about why Mr. Trudeau decided to trigger an election during the fourth wave. Other parties have said the Liberal Leader’s decision was driven by self-interest and the pursuit of a majority government.
The fourth wave of the pandemic is driven by those who are not vaccinated and are putting the recovery at risk, Mr. Trudeau said. The Liberals did not respond when asked if there was a vaccination requirement in place for supporters to attend the event. A spokesperson said that the party will follow all public-health guidelines wherever events are held across the country.
Mr. Trudeau also said Wednesday it is “inconceivable” to him that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole does not require his candidates to be vaccinated and is willing to support candidates “who are anti-vaxxers.”
Mr. O’Toole said Wednesday that Mr. Trudeau’s event was in “contempt of common sense and social-distancing guidelines.”
“Once again, Justin Trudeau has put his entitlement and privilege on full display,” Mr. O’Toole said during his daily election news conference, held Wednesday in the Canadian Legion Hall in Jonquière, a borough of the Quebec city of Saguenay, about 200 kilometres north of Quebec City.
Mr. O’Toole said the Liberal gathering was held in “a packed room” in a “major COVID hot spot in Canada.”
The Liberal event was held at a large venue in Brampton, known as the Speranza Banquet Hall, and 400 people were allowed into the space, the party said. It also noted that the usual capacity for the room is 1,000 and COVID-19 guidelines mean the maximum number that could be in the room was 500.
Ontario regulations also say members of the public must be able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the indoor portion of the event space.
Liberal organizers marked out boxes on the ground with green masking tape to encourage people to practise physical distancing, but many stepped outside those lines in an attempt to get close to Mr. Trudeau. When he left the room, he was met by a crush of supporters.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said Wednesday that city bylaw officers informed him that the event was compliant with current Ontario protocols.
There were also seniors in the room, including 87-year-old former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who made an appearance at the event in support of Mr. Trudeau, and 100-year-old former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion.
When asked Wednesday why he would hold an event of this kind, including with seniors, Mr. Trudeau said that “nobody tells Hazel McCallion or Jean Chrétien what to do or what not to do.”
“I was so glad they chose to come join us in that event,” he said.
Ms. McCallion, who is a supporter of Mr. Trudeau, told reporters Tuesday evening that it is “unfortunate” an election was called during a pandemic. She said the government should be concentrating on the recovery instead and getting people back to work to get the economy moving.
When asked if she felt comfortable in the crowded space in Brampton, Ms. McCallion said that is why she doesn’t believe an election should have been called during a pandemic.
“Governments have been saying, ‘Stay home, stay away, including in groups,’ ” she said. “And then an election is called, which brings people together in groups.”
On the issue of safety, Mr. Chrétien said he didn’t know the format for the event but felt safe because he has been vaccinated, adding he was happy he came.
With a report from Ian Bailey in Saguenay, Que.
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