With the distraction of their leadership race now wisely postponed, the federal Conservatives deserve credit for doing their job in Parliament of holding the Trudeau government’s feet to the fire on COVID-19.
While frontrunner Peter MacKay was tone deaf in urging the party to forge ahead with the contest in the middle of a national healthcare and economic emergency, the Conservatives in Parliament have been doing exactly what they should be doing as the official opposition facing a minority government.
Last week, outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, working with house leader Candice Bergen and finance critic Pierre Poilievre, beat back a brazen attempt by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to suspend parliamentary oversight of government spending and taxation because of COVID-19 for 21 months, until Dec. 31, 2021.
From the beginning of the spread of the pandemic to Canada in January, the Conservatives have consistently challenged Trudeau and the Liberals on their decision-making, and have been proven right.
Despite cries from the usual suspects that what they were recommending was unnecessary and fomenting racism, subsequent events have established the Conservatives were right to urge Trudeau to restrict air traffic to Canada from hot zones of the virus, long before he did.
They were right to warn the Trudeau government it was not sufficiently screening passengers returning from virus epicentres.
They were right to criticize the Liberals for taking too long to impose mandatory quarantines on passengers arriving in Canada from foreign countries.
They were right to urge Trudeau to close the border to would-be asylum seekers at the illegal entry point of Quebec’s Roxham Road, long before he did.
All the way back in late January, after Canada had recorded its first case of COVID-19 in a man who arrived in Toronto from Wuhan, China, Conservative MPs such as Matt Jeneroux, Garnett Genius and Todd Doherty were peppering the Trudeau government with questions on whether it was prepared for the spread of the virus.
This while Trudeau, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam, Liberal cabinet ministers and senior government officials were repeatedly assuring Canadians they had everything under control, the risk of COVID-19 to Canadians was minimal and that restricting international flights was unnecessary and ineffective.
(For the above, I’m relying on the excellent reporting of David Staples of the Edmonton Journal, who has reconstructed the timeline of how COVID-19 spread in Canada and the political response.)
That said, it’s not the job of the official opposition to oppose everything the government does in the middle of an unprecedented healthcare and economic crisis like COVID-19
As Scheer said when he promised the Conservatives would give swift passage to Trudeau’s economic stimulus bill (absent its attempted power grab), “there really isn’t much philosophical difference when it comes to fighting a virus or keeping Canadians healthy and safe.”
The next job for the Conservatives will be to ensure the billions of dollars in aid Trudeau has promised to Canadian families and businesses, to cope with COVID-19, gets to them as quickly as possible.