Justin Trudeau says Ottawa will send ventilators to Alberta amid what he described as a “heartbreaking” COVID-19 situation in the province, while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole refused to say whether he still supports Premier Jason Kenney’s pandemic response.
The reverberations from Alberta, where spiking intensive-care-unit admissions for COVID-19 patients led to a decision by Mr. Kenney to declare a state of public-health emergency and introduce a vaccine passport system, hit the federal campaign trail on Thursday.
Mr. Trudeau criticized Mr. O’Toole’s previous support for the Alberta Premier. In turn, Mr. O’Toole went after the Liberal Leader for calling an election in the middle of a pandemic, and said the estimated $600-million spent on holding the vote could have been sent to provinces to fight the highly contagious Delta variant instead.
Speaking in Montreal on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau noted that most people in Alberta are vaccinated and are trying to get through the pandemic and back to normal.
“And yet, cases have risen massively. Restrictions are being brought back in and they need support and help,” Mr. Trudeau said. He added that he has instructed the Privy Council Clerk to offer Alberta any support it needs.
“Ventilators are on the way. Anything more we can do, whether it is sending more medical professionals, as we did to Ontario a few months ago when they were overwhelmed – we are going to make sure that Albertans get the support from everyone in this country, the way they need to get through this time.”
Mr. Kenney had previously resisted calls to create a vaccine passport system. He apologized on Wednesday for his government’s decision this summer to treat COVID-19 as an “endemic” illness, like the flu.
Labs in Lethbridge are providing Alberta with up to 1,000 additional COVID-19 tests per day, and 41 federal workers are helping as contact tracers, according to Andrew MacKendrick, a spokesperson for the federal health minister’s office. Ottawa will provide additional offers of staffing support and additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines as needed, he said.
Alberta submitted a request for 60 ventilators on Wednesday, and they are expected to be sent over the weekend from the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile, Mr. MacKendrick added.
But Verna Yiu, the chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services, said on Thursday that the province has more than 600 ventilators, and another 200 that would be “less than optimal” but would do in a pinch.
“I think we have an ample supply of ventilators right now, and we also have sourcing with vendors. So we don’t have a shortage for that,” she said.
Dr. Yiu previously said that her agency would be asking other provinces to send front-line staff, and to take on some of Alberta’s intensive-care-unit patients in their own hospitals.
Jessica Lamirande, a spokesperson for National Defence, said the Canadian Armed Forces had not been asked to support COVID-19 efforts in Alberta. Ontario officials said they are looking into what support they might be able to offer Alberta.
Saskatchewan on Thursday also announced plans for a vaccine passport. Both Alberta and Saskatchewan have said they will allow unvaccinated people to access certain non-essential services, as long as they test negative for the coronavirus.
A reporter asked Mr. Trudeau why his government didn’t do more to intervene in Alberta. The Liberal Leader said his government is there to support provinces, and has pledged to foot the bill for provincial vaccine certification programs.
Ottawa hasn’t yet brought in its own vaccine passport system, and Mr. Trudeau’s government didn’t announce a plan for mandatory vaccinations for federal employees and inter-provincial travellers until the eve of the federal election campaign.
“If Alberta had moved forward when other provinces were doing it, things might be better right now. But it’s not my job to judge, or to criticize, or certainly not to tell people what to do,” Mr. Trudeau said.
But on Thursday the Liberal Leader criticized Mr. O’Toole for his recent praise of the Alberta Premier’s handling of the pandemic. “Just a few days ago, Mr. O’Toole was still applauding Mr. Kenney for his management of the pandemic,” Mr. Trudeau said.
On Sunday, Mr. O’Toole said that Alberta had the “best contact tracing efforts” during the first wave of the pandemic.
And earlier, in a video address from Oct., 2020, Mr. O’Toole said Mr. Kenney had navigated the pandemic “far better” than the federal government. “When it comes to getting our country back on track, the federal Conservatives can learn a lot from our UCP cousins,” the Tory Leader said of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party.
During a campaign stop on Thursday at a curling club in Saint John, N.B., Mr. O’Toole declined to say whether he continues to support Mr. Kenney’s handling of the health crisis.
Despite multiple questions from journalists about Alberta, Mr. O’Toole said only that he supports the provinces in their efforts to fight COVID-19. He also denounced Mr. Trudeau for picking fights with provinces during an election the Liberals called.
“I have consistently said that we will work with the provinces and respect the decisions they make with respect to fighting the Delta variant wave of COVID-19. Each province [is] putting the best decisions forward for the health and economic stability of their provinces,” Mr. O’Toole said.
He said the Liberals should have been tougher on border measures earlier in the pandemic, to prevent the Delta variant from entering Canada.
“Rather than double up our resources to fight this Delta spread, [Mr. Trudeau] called an election,” Mr. O’Toole said. “The $600-million this election cost could be helping all provinces in their fight. So as prime minister I will be there as the wing man to the provinces to fight COVID-19.”
Asked by a reporter whether he is concerned that the fledgling People’s Party of Canada could hurt the Conservatives by splitting the vote, Mr. O’Toole said that he is the only leader who can replace Mr. Trudeau as prime minister.
Mr. O’Toole said he realizes people are frustrated with various aspects of Mr. Trudeau’s record. “Channel that frustration to replace Mr. Trudeau,” he said.
Pollster Nik Nanos, the founder of Nanos Research, said Mr. Kenney’s reversal on vaccine passports makes clear the risks of denying the important role of vaccinations, as well as the importance of monitoring and embracing public-health best practices.
Mr. Nanos added that Mr. Kenney, who served with Mr. O’Toole in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, has provided political fodder for the Liberals to attack the Conservative Leader in the closing days of the campaign. “This is not likely to have a material impact on races in Alberta, but may have an impact in further motivating Liberals to get out and vote,” Mr. Nanos said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also addressed the crisis in Alberta, during a stop in Toronto on Thursday. “We are going to push to call for the military and all supports possible to get out to Alberta to support the people,” he said.
Mr. Singh said the NDP is changing its campaign approach in Alberta, but he didn’t give specifics. When asked if NDP candidates will still be door-knocking in the province, Mr. Singh said the party is “making that assessment right now.”
Mr. Singh also said that while he condemns the way Mr. Kenney has handled COVID-19, he also condemns Mr. Trudeau’s leadership. “Both Conservatives and Liberals have failed in this case,” he said, adding that an election should not have been called in the middle of the pandemic’s fourth wave.
With reports from Menaka Raman-Wilms in Toronto and James Keller in Calgary
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