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OTTAWA — Conservative leader Erin O’Toole called for measures to help Canadian businesses “break their dependency” on China as he made his debut speech as leader in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
O’Toole also set out his own grand vision for how to unite Canada during a time of crisis as he delivered a reply to last week’s throne speech.
Wednesday marked the first day O’Toole has spoken in the House of Commons since being elected Conservative leader on Aug. 23, as well as his first day back since leaving self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 nearly two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the throne speech on Sept. 23, which laid out his government’s rationale for expansive — and expensive — new national programs around childcare and pharmacare as the country grapples with the pandemic.
I was not born with a sense of entitlement to lead our country — I have worked hard my entire life to serve Canada and its people
O’Toole used his reply to draw a contrast between himself and Trudeau, describing the prime minister as stoking regional divisions in the country and only helping out Liberal-connected industries.
He said Canadians are “still getting to know me” as the new Tory leader.
“I was not born with a sense of entitlement to lead the country, but I have worked hard my entire life to serve Canada and its people to earn the chance to lead,” O’Toole said.
“The Prime Minister doesn’t understand the challenges facing our country because he’s never had to understand the challenges facing the average Canadian family,” he went on. “Under this government, Canada has become less united, less prosperous, and less respected on the world stage, and a large reason is because our Canadian community is being weakened under this Prime Minister. The Prime Minister likes to preach that ‘we are all in this together,’ but Canadians have seen time after time with this Prime Minister that that is not true.”
O’Toole said Trudeau’s government had failed to get better testing options for Canada over the spring and summer, noting his own recent experience of trying to get a test in Ottawa but being turned away because of the lineups. (He later got a test through a private clinic set up for MPs.)
“Fifteen other countries — developed countries, our closest allies — already have available rapid test options that give their citizens answers in minutes,” O’Toole said. “Half a year after the Prime Minister said rapid testing was important, half a trillion dollars later … there are tens of thousands of Canadians in line, forgotten. Canadian families deserve better than this.”
The Conservatives have been demanding the Liberal government move faster to approve rapid testing options in Canada. On Wednesday morning, Health Canada approved a rapid test from the U.S. firm Abbott that can deliver results in 13 minutes. The Liberals have already ordered 7.9 million tests from the company.
In another extended section in the speech, O’Toole said more must be done to move Canada’s trading relationship away from China and toward other democracies such as India and Taiwan.
“For the last three decades, an uneasy compromise has existed with the engagement of non-market economies and countries who resist democracy and rules-based diplomacy,” he said. “Our belief as Conservatives in free markets and the positive influence of capitalism has fought for equal position with our commitment to international freedom and democracy when it comes to Communist China.”
But he said the price for Canadian workers of trading with China is too high, and that “for more than a decade, the chief economic exports from China often have been copyright infringement, counterfeiting and digital piracy.” He also slammed China’s human rights abuses, including “the terrible ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims” and “the establishment of a police state in the once-free Hong Kong.”
“I am in favour of free trade, but the cost of market outcomes with Beijing is simply becoming too high, and the approach of this government is simply out of touch,” he said.
“Do we continue to ignore ‘re-education camps’ in Western China so as to grow our exports? Or do we open new markets, work with our allies and rebalance global trade to show the Communist Party in Beijing that the one thing not for sale is our values? To do this, we must help Canadian businesses grow new market opportunities, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, and break dependency with China.”
Speaking in French, O’Toole said the Liberals are too intent on imposing their values on all of Canada, instead of recognizing they’re leading a federation of provinces. He said the provinces share “a common destiny and a common dream,” and it’s the role of the prime minister to “be the link that unites them.”
“This is my vision of federalism,” he said in French. “A decentralized federalism, which trusts the provinces, which encourages the development of resources in the West, and which respects the Quebec nation.”
He accused Trudeau of scaremongering about conservatives, and acting as if the Liberals have a monopoly on Canadian identity.
“The Prime Minister attacked me for suggesting we have national unity challenge,” O’Toole said at another point. “Five years ago, when I was sworn into the Privy Council (as a cabinet minister), the Bloc Québécois was not an official party, there was no such thing as the Wexit movement … That is the Prime Minister’s record.”
He concluded by stressing that Canada can rebuild after the pandemic by supporting small businesses, strengthening community organizations and rewarding hard work.
“Canada doesn’t need another slogan, it needs a plan,” he said. “It doesn’t need a poster boy, it needs a handy man … Canada needs a leader for all Canadians, with a plan for all of Canada, not just the parts where the Liberals get votes.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020