Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is pushing the government to put its plan to reopen Canada on the table, as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country.
And, he said, they need to table that plan within the next 20 days.
“The president of the United States and the prime minister of the United Kingdom have both released public plans for economic reopening,” O’Toole said.
“But Mr. Trudeau refuses to give Canadians clarity on whether and when regular social life will be able to resume.”
This is the topic behind Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel-Garner’s opposition day motion in the House of Commons, which members of Parliament are slated to spend the day debating on Tuesday. If passed, the motion calls for the government to table “a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.”
The motion comes as Canada’s coronavirus cases are starting to trend upwards, with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) warning on Monday that “average daily case counts are now on the rise.”
“The latest national-level data show a seven-day average of 3,297 new cases daily (March 12 to 18). Currently, there are 35,009 active cases across the country,” read a statement from PHAC.
“Canadians are urged to remain vigilant, continue following local public health advice, and consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer.”
O’Toole was pressed on the motion during his Tuesday press conference, with reporters quizzing him on whether he plans to pressure the government to spark up conversations with the United States about reopening the shared border.
“We’re starting that conversation today, and this is why we’re talking about safe, data-driven and effective plan to reopening,” O’Toole said.
“That will include the border, that will include airports, ports, all areas of federal jurisdiction where there should be a national rapid screening and testing process.”
When asked about the Conservative’s push for a plan during a Tuesday press conference, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said it shows “a lack of confidence” in public health authorities.
“It shouldn’t be politicians that determine when…a community should relax public health measures, but it should be public health and science leaders,” Hajdu said, echoing what Intergovernmental Affairs minister Dominic LeBlanc said moments before.
Public health restrictions, for the most part, fall under provincial jurisdiction. That’s why there have been times when gyms and restaurants have been open in British Columbia, while Ontario residents have been sticking to takeout and at-home workouts – and that’s just one example.
Hajdu said the motion displays a “a lack of understanding about the jurisdictional right and responsibility of provinces and territories to deliver health care and to protect the health of their constituents.”
“It’s very important that we continue to have a response here in Canada that is guided by science (and) that is guided by public health officials,” she said.
Still, O’Toole argued that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t been afraid to flirt with provincial jurisdiction before during the pandemic.
“The federal government has advised of the need for temporary COVID-19 restrictions to alleviate pressures on the public health system, including by the prime minister on three separate occasions since November 2020,” O’Toole said.
“Surely if the prime minister can call for greater restrictions, he can also indicate the conditions and plan for a safe and responsible reopening.”
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden said that he expects to be able to vaccinate all U.S. citizen by the end of May – a milestone that the Canadian government currently says will be reached in Canada by September.
When pressed on Canada’s reopening timeline, Trudeau said at a March 3 press conference that “it’s possible” the September date could be moved up.
“We’re certainly going to work closely with the provinces in order to try and get to that, to get vaccinations to Canadians as quickly as possible so that we can loosen and reopen as quickly as possible,” Trudeau said.
He added that the government will continue “following the best recommendations of our experts” when it comes to the vaccination efforts.
Those experts have also faced questions on the reopening timeline. Speaking in a press conference on March 9, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the restrictions will only start to adapt “when it is safe to do so…based on evolving scientific evidence and expert advice.”
It will be about “balancing risk and benefits,” she said.
— With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore