Liberal MP Joël Lightbound is speaking out against his own party’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, calling on the federal government to “stop dividing Canadians” and to provide a clear plan for when it will lift vaccine mandates.
He stepped down as Quebec caucus chair for the party later that same day, announcing the decision in a tweet.
During his Tuesday morning press conference, Lightbound called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government to “stop dividing Canadians.”
“I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve and during the last election campaign.”
Most recently, Trudeau has been outspoken in condemning the behaviour of a so-called “Freedom Convoy” of protestors that has taken over much of downtown Ottawa.
Speaking in a press conference Monday, Trudeau said Canadians have watched the protestors “in disgust and disbelief,” wondering “how this could have happened in our nation’s capital after everything we’ve been through together.”
However, his comments have prompted some — including interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen — to accuse him of sowing “division” by “overtly politicizing vaccines and the pandemic” and “calling these Canadians names.”
Now, Lightbound is slamming the government for causing what he characterized as worsening divisions among Canadians — and he’s calling on the Liberals to make a number of changes.
He said they should provide a “clear and measurable benchmark” for when public health measures will be lifted. People are “increasingly confused” about the reasons for these measures, and the government should communicate its intentions more clearly to Canadians, Lightbound said.
“It’s a lot easier to comply when you understand,” he said.
The Quebec-area MP said the measures impact people differently, taking an apparent swipe at Trudeau, whose primary residence is Rideau Cottage.
“Not everyone can earn a living on a Macbook at a cottage,” Lightbound said.
Global News has contacted the prime minister’s office for comment, but did not receive a response. However, Trudeau was pressed on Lightbound’s comments as he walked into question period on Tuesday.
“We’re all frustrated. We’re all sick and tired of restrictions, of mandates, of having to make sacrifices, of not being able to do the things we love. It’s been two years, and it’s really, really tiring for all of us,” Trudeau said.
“This government has been focused every step of the way on following the best science, following the best public health advice, to keep as many people as safe as possible. And quite frankly, it’s worked.”
He added that mandates “are the way to avoid further restrictions, or having to be restricted.”
Other members of the Liberal cabinet were also pressed on Lightbound’s comments throughout the day on Tuesday.
“I’ve been a member of the Liberal caucus now for over six years,” said Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.
“I believe that we are a caucus that listens to each other and that there is plenty of opportunity for a wide variety of opinion within that caucus.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino also spoke about Lightbound’s comments.
“Joël is a colleague, is a friend and I think everybody wants to discuss his statement with him within caucus,” he said.
While the MP said he doesn’t necessarily believe public health measures should be lifted immediately, he has concerns about what he called the government’s decision to “wedge, to divide, and to stigmatize.”
“I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions. This is not a risk we ought to be taking lightly.”
Lightbound’s comments come as the trucker convoy continues to snarl downtown Ottawa streets. Protestors have called for a number of changes, ranging from a call to lift public health mandates to demanding the prime minister resign.
The Liberal MP, however, distanced himself from the protest happening just outside the doors of his press conference.
“It’s time for truckers to leave and let the local population get their neighbourhood back,” he said.
Lightbound insinuated that his press conference is indicative of a wider squabble within the Liberal party, too. He said that while he was the only one at the press conference on Tuesday, he is “not the only one who feels, to varying degrees,” the same way “within (Liberal) ranks.”
“I remain hopeful that this call … will be heard,” he said.
As for his political future, Lightbound made it clear that he has no intention to leave the Liberal Party of his own accord.
“I think the Liberal Party has been, historically, open for dissent and different opinions,” he said, adding that he has “too much respect” for his constituents’ votes to change parties.
At the end of the day, though, the party might take the decision out of his hands — something Lightbound acknowledged on Tuesday.
“That’s not my decision to make,” he said.
“If I’m here today, it’s because I am ready to accept the consequences, if there are any.”
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