OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole used his first speech in the House of Commons as party leader to lambaste the Liberal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his formal reply to the Liberals’ throne speech, O’Toole drew on his own experiences with being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
That kicked off a lengthy attack on what he called the government’s slow and at times completely wrong approach that left too many people behind.
O’Toole, an Ontario MP, was elected leader of the party in August, but just ahead of the resumption of Parliament last week he contracted COVID-19 as did his wife.
That forced him into quarantine, and he only emerged Wednesday to deliver his official reply to the Liberals’ throne speech.
The Tories have already said they won’t vote in favour of it, but while that vote is a confidence measure, the backing of the NDP is promised and so the Liberal government will likely survive.
“That throne speech could have provided a clear and distinct plan on the eve of a second wave of this pandemic, it failed to do that,” O’Toole said.
In the first wave of the pandemic, the Liberals dragged their feet on the deployment of rapid testing, scaled back a government pandemic-warning system that might have flagged the severity of the threat sooner and screwed up early aid bills despite suggestions for improvement from the Opposition, O’Toole said.
But along with attacking the Liberals, O’Toole sought to provide some glimpses of what might be different if he were prime minister — for the Tories are, he said, a government in waiting.
He pledged tough foreign policy that would hold China more accountable for its aggressive actions on trade, increased health funding to the provinces, and fiscal policies that take the needs of small businesses to heart.
“They don’t need to build back better,” he said, using the slogan Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has adopted.
“They need to stay open so the family can survive.”
O’Toole said Trudeau is a poster boy and what Canada needs is a handyman.
“Canada doesn’t need another slogan, it needs a plan,” he said.
That plan can’t just be for those who vote Liberal but for the whole country, he said.
Putting together a Conservative plan that would appeal to the whole country is part of the work that lies ahead for O’Toole.
He has acknowledged several times that to form a majority government, his party will need to broaden its base and find a way to bring in new supporters.
On Wednesday, he used his first question to Trudeau in question period to press the government on its record on reconciliation with Indigenous people, not a file the Tories have made a priority in the past.
Trudeau replied he was encouraged to see O’Toole take that direction on a very important issue, a response O’Toole later described as condescending.