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O'Toole, Singh target Trudeau over pandemic election call

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, like Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, said he is prepared to fight an election virtually if public-health officials demand renewed restrictions.
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The Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 29, 2018. Federal party leaders Jagmeet Singh and Erin O'Toole took Justin Trudeau to task over the timing of a federal election during the fourth wave of the pandemic at the French-language debate on TVA on Thursday, Sept. 2.

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau found himself the target of his political opponents over the timing of an election call during the fourth wave of COVID-19, as new modelling suggests the country is headed for a difficult fall.

Trudeau triggered the election three weeks ago and it wraps on Sept. 20.

Since then, daily case counts have ticked up. As of Thursday, the average daily number of new cases over the last week was almost 3,500, up from 2,900 a week ago, and just over 700 at the beginning of August.

The number of people in intensive care units has also gone up during that time, to 241 from 199, and hospitalizations too are up to 559 from 419 — although the figures are far below the more than 1,200 people in intensive care and 4,500 hospitalized at the peak of the third wave over April and May.

The Public Health Agency of Canada on Friday warned Canada could see more than 15,000 new cases a day by October under current transmission rates, with the ramp up running through election day in two weeks' time.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters in Quebec City that the figures were a reminder of why it was problematic for Trudeau to pull the plug on his minority government and "call a selfish summer election."

"People are frustrated, people are upset. It's been a long pandemic and it's been a long and difficult time," Singh said after unveiling his party's promises to Quebecers.

"We can't now let down our guard and throw away all that sacrifice that was made. And so we need to make sure we're very careful and vigilant and prudent about how we move forward."

Singh, like Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, said he is prepared to fight an election virtually if public-health officials demand renewed restrictions, although didn't detail his party's contingency plan.

Speaking in Montreal, O'Toole pointed to a broadcast set the Conservatives created in a downtown Ottawa hotel as an avenue for him to make announcements and do call-in town halls with voters, which he has done at times since the campaign kicked off.

He also noted Trudeau's suggestion after Thursday night's French-language debate that another minority government could send voters to the polls in another 18 months.

"We should not be in a campaign. Only Mr. Trudeau wanted this campaign for his own personal interest," O'Toole said. "And last night, he threatened another election if he doesn't get his way with this one. Canadians deserve better than that."

Trudeau on Friday said he was merely remarking about the average lifespan of a minority government in Canada. 

He sought to draw clear lines between him and his opponents, as polls suggest a narrowing race between the three front-runners, by calling the differences between the parties "stark." 

Trudeau argued his party's plan would help the country through the pandemic, as well as fully vaccinated Canadians who Trudeau said, "don't deserve to go back into lockdowns."

"I am not done fighting for Canadians. I am not done with the hard work Canadians expect for a better future for everyone," Trudeau said in Mississauga, Ont.

The clash over the election punctuated the end of the third full week of campaigning as Trudeau and other leaders hoped to get a boost after the first face-to-face debate on Thursday night in Montreal.

The issue of why the country was plunged into an election was among the early topics during the French-language debate on TVA, one of the most-watched networks in Quebec, a province that has become a three-way fight between the Liberals, Bloc Québécois, and Conservatives.

Trudeau, O'Toole, Singh, and the Bloc's Yves-François Blanchet took part. The Green party's Annamie Paul and Maxime Bernier, leader of the People's Party of Canada, were not invited to participate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2021.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press