Trudeau, O'Toole exchange barbs over hot topics in first question period in months
OTTAWA -- Facing off for the first question period in five months, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced down a barrage of questions from his opposition counterparts over pressing issues from the ongoing B.C. flooding disaster, Indigenous reconciliation, inflation, and climate change.
In a series of, at times testy, partisan exchanges, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh questioned where the federal government has been, and what it intends to do, to address issues they said have been simmering over the two months between the 2021 federal election and the opening of the 44th Parliament.
“Monthly grocery bills have already gone up hundreds of dollars. The speech from the throne mentioned inflation once, just once. Is the prime minister having trouble understanding the concerns of Canadian families? Or does he just not care?” asked O’Toole.
“Inflation is a challenge that countries around the world are facing right now because of disrupted supply chains, because of the recovery of our economies after COVID, but we are extremely concerned about the rising cost of living brought to people by inflation,” Trudeau responded.
There was a full house for the first post-election question period, with recently re-elected House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota having to remind the hecklers to be mindful of their colleagues wanting to hear the cross-aisle exchanges.
“We are in a climate crisis and we need to act urgently. This climate crisis also presents an opportunity to create good jobs for workers… So why did this prime minister abandon workers, without a plan to create good-paying jobs that help us fight the climate crisis?” asked Singh.
“Mr. Speaker, just a few months ago all parties had an opportunity to put forward their plans to fight climate change and to grow a Canadian economy and I was extremely pleased to see that the support for the Liberal plan… was recognized as the strongest plan for the economy and to fight climate change by all experts,” Trudeau replied.
QUESTIONING PRIORITIES, VACCINATION RULES
In a prequel to question period, Trudeau and O’Toole exchanged attacks, asserting their opponents’ priorities in the new Parliament were out of line with Canadians’ concerns.
In a speech to his caucus Wednesday morning, O’Toole took direct aim at the prime minister, accusing him of not caring about the rising cost of living and leaving out key issues in Tuesday’s speech from the throne.
“Instead of standing up for Canadians, we have a prime minister who always puts his own needs ahead of yours,” O’Toole said.
“Other countries are launching ambitious plans to unleash innovation, lower taxes, and slash red tape to get their economies surging, and we see nothing from Justin Trudeau… It took him two months to get us back to work in Ottawa after his unnecessary pandemic election,” he said.
O’Toole’s caucus-rousing speech came one week after party infighting hit a fever pitch with the removal of Sen. Denise Batters from the Conservative national caucus over publicly challenging his leadership future by initiating a petition calling for an expedited membership vote on whether O’Toole should keep his job.
In it, he vowed his party will be the “professional, ethical, and experienced,” team representing Canadians in this Parliament, harkening back to issues and messaging he’s used in the past to rally the Conservative base.
Responding to the Official Opposition leader’s remarks on his way into a Liberal caucus meeting, Trudeau said that his government is focused on the economy and affordability, as well as reconciliation and climate change, while his opponent is concentrated on challenging the House of Commons’ vaccine mandate.
“The kinds of things Mr. O’Toole should be focused on. Instead, he's focused on getting exemptions for his MPs, that doesn’t make much sense,” Trudeau said, referencing the questions over how many of his MPs may be unvaccinated, but have submitted medical exemptions.
'MPS ARE ESSENTIAL': MP
Inside the door of the Conservative caucus meeting Wednesday was a basket full of rapid testing kits and masks that the party said was there for any MP to access if they wanted to take a test as an additional precaution regardless of vaccination status.
“Our caucus chair did make some rapid tests available, and they are there if caucus members wanted to use them really, if anybody needs needs or wants to have a rapid test, I'm sure they'd be accessible to anybody on the Hill who would like a rapid test,” Deputy Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said during a scrum in West Block.
Still, other parties whose MPs are all fully vaccinated, continue to express their discomfort with the Conservative’s handling of the vaccine mandate and public health guidance.
“Nobody seems to control this caucus, and nobody seems to abide to the rules,” Blanchet told reporters after his caucus meeting, referring to the Conservatives.
“I believe that the Conservatives should be more transparent about what's going on in their caucus and about their vaccination status,” said Singh.
Wednesday afternoon the House will be debating a government motion proposing to re-establish the hybrid sitting structure that would see physical distancing and virtual proceedings return to the House through until June 2022.
“A Conservative MP tested positive, he should be able to contribute. When anyone tests positive, it's a way of making sure that parliamentarians speak for their citizens,” Trudeau told reporters on his way into question period.
As part of this motion, the Liberals are looking to beef up the language around what would qualify as a valid medical exemption under the Board of Internal Economy’s vaccine mandate which the Conservatives have presented a procedural challenge to.
The Conservatives are against both proposals, saying that Canadians elected them to show up, in-person to do their jobs and all MPs should be doing so, as the Conservatives intend to do.
“MPs are essential,” Bergen said.