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Liberal MP breaks ranks over pandemic policies

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A Liberal MP spoke out on Tuesday against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial governments’ pandemic policies, and politicians’ handling of the ongoing trucker convoy protests.

Joel Lightbound, the Louis-Hébert, Que. MP, held a press conference on Parliament Hill where he said that he thinks those concerned about COVID-19 policies have “legitimate concerns” that should not be dismissed.

Citing the impact on Canadians’ mental health, families becoming divided, and people losing their jobs over decisions to not to get vaccinated, Lightbound said he thinks political leaders are “unwilling to adapt.”

“I've heard from hundreds of constituents and citizens who took the time to reach out to me these past weeks, folks who have nothing to do with these demonstrations, who are for the most part vaccinated, who have done everything as they should these last two years,” Lightbound said.

He thinks political leaders have failed at explaining to Canadians their rationale for continued public health measures, citing the vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers as the latest example.

“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 said.

Lightbound said he was uncomfortable with the politicization of vaccine mandates during the last federal election, but things began to “really shift” for him with the onset of the Omicron variant and it reached a point where he felt it necessary to share his perspective publicly.

He called for a clear roadmap from governments on how and when restrictions will be lifted, pointing to other countries and suggesting that Canadians “are left wondering where the hell are we heading?”

Responding to Lightbound’s comments on his way into question period, Trudeau said that everyone is tired of restrictions but his government will keep following public health guidance. He did not address his MP’s concerns over leaders politicizing the global health crisis.

“I can understand frustrations with mandates, but mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions… as Canadians have gotten vaccinated, we've been able to get through things, and this team is going to stay focused on doing exactly that,” Trudeau said.

LEAVES CAUCUS CHAIR ROLE

Asked whether he planned to leave the party over this difference of opinion, Lightbound suggested there are others within the Liberal ranks who share his perspective and he hopes he can continue to push for change from within the caucus. However, on Tuesday afternoon Lightbound announced he would be stepping down as the chair of the Quebec caucus.

Chief Government Whip Steven MacKinnon issued a statement after speaking with Lightbound on Tuesday about his disagreements on government policy. MacKinnon said that he accepted Lightbound’s resignation from his chair role, but he will remain a member of the national caucus.

“He has expressed clear confidence in the government, and remains a member of the Liberal caucus,” MacKinnon said.

Lightbound has been a Liberal MP since 2015, held parliamentary secretary roles in the last two parliaments, and is currently the chair of the House of Commons Industry and Technology Committee.

LIGHTBOUND'S VIEWS ON CONVOY

Lightbound held his press conference while the federal cabinet met on Parliament Hill, and as the trucker convoy protests entered their 12th day in the nation’s capital.

The Liberal MP condemned some of the behaviour that has been on display during the protests, saying that he too has faced threats over the years from “far right groups” that have sought to align themselves with the demonstrations.

He said he agrees with the federal government’s position that it’s time for the trucker convoy to move along, but disagrees with what he feels is the prime minister’s generalizing about what those who are taking part in the protests concerns are.

“It is time to stop dividing people, to stop pitting one part of the population against another,” he said.

Demonstrators have said they are in Ottawa to call for the end of all COVID-19 mandates that they feel curb their freedoms, and to express their dissatisfaction with federal pandemic leadership. Though, on Monday night key organizers appeared in a video indicating they would be willing to form a coalition with opposition parties and the Governor General of Canada, essentially proposing to unseat the current government.

REACTION FROM COLLEAGUES

Lightbound’s remarks echo some of the concerns raised by Conservative MPs during an emergency debate on the convoy on Monday night.

“I don't really see what's going on across the country as all that surprising to me. It seems like an eruption of something that's been simmering of pain, and trauma, and frustration for two long years, and governments have not been listening,” said Kildonan-St. Paul, Man. Conservative MP Raquel Dancho during the debate.

On Tuesday in question period, the Official Opposition seized on Lightbound’s remarks, before he left his caucus position.

“Today, the chair of the Quebec Liberal caucus clearly and strongly stated it's time to end the divisiveness and the politicization and end the mandates. We Conservatives could not agree more. This cannot be a slow and dragged out process simply because of the prime minister's ego, pride, or denial. Canadians are too tired. Canadians need hope. So will the prime minister follow the science, follow the evidence, end the restrictions, end the mandates?” asked interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen.

As he did during Monday’s emergency debate, in response, the prime minister said that he understands the COVID-19 crisis has been hard on everyone and asserted that pandemic restrictions will not last forever.

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