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Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole takes a shot at Ontario government’s management of pandemic restrictions


OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole took a shot at Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government management of pandemic restrictions Saturday while praising Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s less restrictive approach to managing the spread of COVID-19.

Appearing with Kenney at the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting this weekend, O’Toole thanked the premier for Alberta’s pandemic response — including providing COVID-19 tests in pharmacies and putting fewer restrictions on business activity than other provinces.

“This is only in Alberta,” said O’Toole, who was wrapping up a fundraising tour in the province.

“My province (Ontario), many other provinces, there hasn’t been as strong a reaction.”

Asked Sunday if that was meant as a criticism of Ford, O’Toole shifted his criticism away from the provinces and back to the federal government.

“The provinces that trusted the federal government would get testing right have watched the Trudeau government let them down on rapid tests,” O’Toole wrote.

Testing for COVID-19 is a provincial responsibility, but the federal health department is responsible for approving testing methods.

“We have seen premiers develop different approaches to their provincial responses because they have not been able to rely on Ottawa. We should all learn from each of their successes.”

But his comments are unlikely to help smooth things over between the federal party and their provincial cousins in the country’s most populous province — where O’Toole needs to win over voters to have a chance at unseating Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

The relationship between the two parties has been frosty for some time, going back to when former leader Andrew Scheer refused to mention Doug Ford’s name during the last federal election. The premier, who at the time was deeply unpopular with the provincial electorate, took notice. While Kenney campaigned for Scheer in Ontario, Ford sat on the sidelines.

Ford has already said he will not campaign for O’Toole, telling reporters in August he was “swamped” with dealing with Ontario’s pandemic response. But the premier’s occasional kind words for the Trudeau government, including his warm relationship with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, have not been well received by some federal Conservatives.

Despite differing approaches to managing the health crisis, both Alberta and Ontario are struggling under a surge of new COVID-19 cases during the pandemic’s second wave.

Alberta has imposed fewer restrictions on economic activity than other provinces, even as cases continue to spike. On Friday, the provincial health authority put Calgary on a COVID-19 “watch,” one step below the “enhanced” measures imposed on Edmonton to try and slow the spread of the virus.

In September, Kenney said he wouldn’t “micromanage” Albertans by shutting down things like indoor dining or casinos, calling instead on the province’s population to exercise “personal responsibility.”

Since those comments, the number of cases in Alberta has steadily risen. As of Saturday, there were 2,836 active cases of COVID-19 in the province of 4.37 million people.

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On the same day, Ontario reported 5,954 active cases in a province of 14.57 million. In response to the recent surge in COVID cases, the Ford government has temporarily banned indoor dining, gyms and theatres in four major centres — Toronto, Ottawa, and Peel and York regions.

Ford repeatedly resisted re-imposing the restrictions, but abruptly changed course on Oct. 9, saying the pandemic had picked up pace “at an alarming rate.”





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