Liberal Quebec MP Joël Lightbound says he’s uncomfortable with the federal government’s handling of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, saying its pandemic response has become “politicized” and “divisive.”
Pointing to more than a dozen developed countries that have started to do away with restrictions already, Lightbound said Tuesday it’s reasonable to rethink Canada’s COVID-19 approach as it becomes increasingly clear that the world will be dealing with this virus for years to come.
Lightbound said people who question existing policies should not be “demonized” by their prime minister.
“I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government have changed drastically since the last election campaign. It went from a more positive approach to one that stigmatizes and divides people,” Lightbound said.
Lightbound said the Liberal government’s decision to put vaccines at the centre of the political debate risks undermining public trust in the country’s public health institutions.
“It’s becoming harder and harder to know when public health stops and where politics begins,” he said. “It’s time to stop dividing Canadians and pitting one part of the population against another.”
WATCH: Liberal MP says he’s ‘uncomfortable’ with politicization of vaccines, pandemic
Although he’s criticizing the government’s approach, Lightbound said he has no desire to leave the Liberal caucus.
Lightbound — a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance — said he hopes his comments will push Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to “adapt to the changing reality of the pandemic and of the world.”
Ottawa must offer a ‘roadmap,’ MP says
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Lightbound said COVID-19-related restrictions have wreaked havoc for too long and the federal government needs to provide some sort of “roadmap” for lifting pandemic measures, such as the strict limits on travel. He said measures that were reasonable in a previous phase of the pandemic should not be “normalized with no end in sight.”
While he didn’t call for an immediate end to all public health measures, Lightbound said the federal government should establish “clear and measurable targets” for lifting pandemic measures to offer hope to Canadians tired of living with some of the most restrictive rules in the developed world.
Lightbound said the federal government should heed the advice of experts like Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, and “reassess” pandemic programs like vaccine mandates once the Omicron wave is under control.
Last week, Tam said the country needs to find a more “sustainable” way to deal with the pandemic and future variants of the virus.
Lightbound said the country’s leaders can’t lose sight of just how damaging restrictions like lockdowns have been for many aspects of daily life.
“A population’s health, it’s kind of like a pie and Omicron is but a slice of that pie. Economic health, social health and mental health must also be accounted for,” he said.
The Quebec MP said the government’s hard line on the vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers is not based on science. Lightbound said it’s become a “wedge” issue designed to score political points against the government’s opponents.
Echoing concerns raised by industry groups like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Council of Canada, Lightbound said the policy is too disruptive to the country’s supply chains and pushes up the price of goods.
Prime Minister Trudeau has strongly defended the policy, saying a wave of COVID-19 cases is doing more to disrupt Canada’s supply chains than any vaccine mandate could.
While he questioned the usefulness of the vaccine mandate, Lightbound condemned the ongoing demonstration in Ottawa.
“I have absolutely no sympathy for them,” he said of the convoy. “It’s time to stop the occupation. It’s time for truckers to leave.”
Lightbound also said the federal government should immediately enter discussions with the provinces and territories about increasing the Canada Health Transfer. He said Ottawa should focus its financial firepower on the root cause of lockdowns and restrictions: the country’s limited hospital capacity.