Federal parties scrap over guns, COVID-19 response on Day 21 of federal campaign

By Canadian Press

The three main federal parties traded fire Saturday over their responses to gun violence and to the resurgence of COVID-19 on Day 21 of the federal election campaign.

Liberal candidate Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, unloaded on Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's response to the Liberal government's ban on some 1,500 firearm models, including the popular AR-15 rifle and the Ruger Mini-14 used to kill 14 women at Montreal's Ecole polytechnique in 1989. The ban means they cannot be legally used, sold or imported.

The Conservative election platform promises to scrap the May 2020 order-in-council that banned the wide variety of guns and review the Firearms Act with input from police, gun owners, manufacturers and the public.

But O'Toole seemed to backpedal on the pledge on both Thursday and Friday by saying the party would “maintain the ban on assault weapons” when pressed about his platform pledge.

A party spokeswoman later said in an emailed statement that O'Toole does promise to repeal the May 2020 ban but not the prohibition of full-fledged “assault weapons” — distinct from what the Liberals call “assault-style” weapons. That ban has been in place since 1977.

Blair accused O'Toole of “pretending that he had not made a commitment” to maintain the Liberal ban, as well as of being beholden to the gun lobby. 

“I think overwhelmingly Canadians recognize that there is no place for these guns in our country,” he said at a news conference in Toronto. “Mr. O'Toole is having difficulty admitting to Canadians that he's made that unholy pact with the gun lobby. He needs to be held to account.”

Blair linked O'Toole's stance on gun violence to what he said was the previous inaction of the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper, in which the current party leader served as a minister.

Blair said he went looking for help on dealing with rising gun violence from the federal government while he served as Toronto's police chief, but said he got “no help whatsoever from the Harper government.”

Earlier Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused the Trudeau Liberal government of taking a hands-off approach with the provinces by not doing enough to encourage people to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Singh levelled the accusation against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, as he and O'Toole campaigned on opposite sides of the country.

“We have always said that the federal government has not played its role to provide national leadership with the changes in each province,” Singh said Saturday in St. John's, N.L., where he was making an announcement on how his party would improve dental care. 

“It's a global pandemic. It's a national pandemic. It impacts the entire country, so the approach of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a little laissez-faire, too much washing the hands, saying: 'It's not my responsibility. I have done one thing, the rest is the responsibility of the provinces.'”

Singh called for a national plan to provide provinces and territories with more support.

The NDP leader was to travel to Halifax later in the day.

Trudeau's Saturday itinerary was marked as private.

On Friday, Trudeau once again faced attacks from political rivals for calling the Sept. 20 election during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

O'Toole was expected to make an announcement on his plans to fight the pandemic's fourth wave during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C. on Saturday. O'Toole was to end the day in Nanaimo, B.C., at an event with supporters.

On Friday, O'Toole accused Trudeau of forcing the summer campaign for his own personal interest in a bid to secure a majority mandate.

Trudeau said on Friday that a re-elected Liberal government would certify the various provincial vaccine passports for international travel but said that would be an interim measure. He said it could take a year for the government to get a federal system in place because it would need to work with provinces, which are responsible for health care.

Trudeau has said a re-elected Liberal government would give $1 billion to the provinces to create their own vaccine passports for domestic use. 

Since Trudeau called the election three weeks ago, daily case counts have risen. On Thursday, the average daily number of new cases over the previous week stood at 3,500, up from 2,900 a week earlier and just over 700 at the beginning of August.

New modelling released Friday by the Public Health Agency of Canada said the country could see more than 15,000 new cases a day by October, with transmission rates ramping up through to the Sept. 20 election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2021.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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