Liberal MP publicly at odds with government’s pandemic policies, calls for measures to be reexamined

A member of the federal Liberals is speaking out against his own government’s mandatory vaccination policies, becoming the first party politician to publicly be at odds with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over pandemic measures.

Liberal MP Joël Lightbound is calling on the government to review federal vaccine mandates, travel bans, and other measures, saying “people don’t know where public health ends and politics begins.”

He says not everyone who expresses opposition to vaccine mandates is a white supremacist or part of an extremist group, urging people not to label demonstrators with a general lens.

“I will abstain from the kind of generalizations that we’ve heard these last few days,” he said Tuesday, pointing to some protesters who “looked and sounded nothing like a white supremacist.”

“I have enough respect for my fellow Canadians not to engage in these easy and absurd labels,” Lightbound added.

In his address Tuesday, the Quebec MP condemned the far right element in the convoy protest and called on protesters to leave. However, he said some of them have what he is calling “legitimate concerns.”

“I suggest they relocate somewhere else, somewhere appropriate for the residents and the city of Ottawa,” he said, adding protesters can arrange transportation to get to Parliament Hill.

Lightbound’s comments came after Trudeau spoke at an emergency debate in the House of Commons Monday, once again condemning the actions of protesters.

The prime minister said Canadians chose science and vaccines when they re-elected his government, acknowledging that “we’re all tired of this pandemic,” but adding brutality and hate must stop.

“Tonight, we’re here because our democracy is working,” Trudeau stated. “This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians. But Canadians know that the way to get through it is to continue to listen to science, to continue to lean on each other, and continue to be there for each other.”

However, Lightbound says the pandemic has shifted, and now is the time to take a new look at the policies the government has in place.

“I’ve heard from parents worried to see their kids sink into depression and slowly lose their joy of living. I’ve heard from pediatricians in tears telling me about their young patients’ despair, anxiety, isolation, as well as the steady increase in school drop outs they are observing,” he said, adding he’s also heard from people who’ve struggled to make ends meet due to the pandemic, as well as those who are dealing with the mental health effects of the health crisis.

Lightbound appears to not only be targeting federal policies, citing provincial mandates as concerns as well.

“In Quebec, in 2022, we locked up kids aged six to 10 for up to 10 days in windowless rooms. Let that sink in. This was a public health measure that had been drafted, approved, and applied,” he said, seemingly referring to a story about teens in Quebec group homes who were forced to isolate after COVID exposure.

It should also be noted many public health measures are not in the federal purview and are instead within provincial jurisdiction.

Read more: Trudeau denounces actions of demonstrators as anti-mandate protests rage on: ‘This has to stop’

Pointing to Canada’s top doctor in recent remarks, Lightbound said it’s time for the country to move forward with longer-term and more sustainable plans, adding we can’t always be “in crisis mode” and that people have become confused by the many pieces of information they’re being given.

“They’re confused when they see the undeniable trend around the world whereby, for instance, the World Health Organization recently recommended dropping or alleviating many border measures, including vaccine requirements, as they’ve proven to be ineffective in fighting the propagation of the Omicron variant,” Lightbound said.

The MP claims Canadians are now left wondering where this country is headed in the coming months, especially with Canada’s high vaccination rate compared to other nations globally.

“I think there lies the frustration. They feel there is no appetite from our government to adapt so as to reflect the changing data and the changing reality of the pandemic and the world,” he added.

‘Dividing Canadians’

Lightbound has laid out some recommendations for the federal government, saying it should provide a roadmap to Canadians that includes “clear and measurable targets to lift all restrictions within its purview.”

Saying he doesn’t necessarily believe now is the time to lift all measures, Lightbound said it’s critical Canadians have a sense of what will be required to do so and when that might happen.

Lightbound’s statement echoes a number of points made by Conservative MPs in recent weeks, including the belief that the government’s actions are dividing Canadians.

“I can’t help but notice, with regret, that both the tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve and during the last election campaign. From a positive and unifying approach, a decision was made to wedge, to divide, and to stigmatize. I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions. This is not a risk we ought to be taking lightly,” he said.

He also believes the government should make epidemiological data and scientific analysis publicly available, to help Canadians understand why measures are necessary, if so. Lightbound also wants to see Canada do work to build capacity for future waves or viruses, citing the Health Transfers as one step.

Non-vaccinated have been ‘vilified’

Two political scientists from both sides of the country agree with Lighthouse, saying Trudeau have politicized the pandemic and vaccines, leading to the vilification of those who are not vaccinated, rather than educating them.

“Instead of trying to conscientiously cajole, encourage, persuade, and promote people to taking the vaccination, they preferred to come down on people who are opposed to vaccine mandates to vilify them, and to paint them as as being terribly anti-social and not being constructive to the effort of ending the pandemic,” said Max Cameron, a political science professor at UBC.

Cameron agrees with Lightbound, saying by painting unvaccinated people in a negative light, Trudeau has further divided Canadians.

“I think it’s fair to say that strategy of politicizing the pandemic response, has actually had a very heavy price for the country.”

Cameron says although some goals of the Ottawa demonstrations are anti-democratic, he believes Trudeau neglected to acknowledge which goals should be addresses and those that are “reprehensible.”

“I think it is really important to stress one thing that I think he neglected, and that is just how deeply anti-democratic the stated goals of the leaders of this protest are. They don’t seem to understand how our democratic system of government works and then they are bent upon overturning it … but I do think that Trudeau is also implicitly calling out his own ranks for painting the protest with a broad brush. And perhaps not recognizing that the protest movement has captured a range of of grievances, some of which are legitimate.”

Another political scientist at the University of Toronto agrees, saying Trudeau was initially against vaccine mandates but changed his tune days before last fall’s federal election was called.

“Before he called the election, he was against mandates. And then two days before the House of Commons dissolved, he said if you elect us, we’re going to impose mandates on federal workers because polling showed that most of the public wanted some form of mandates. That was a wedge issue they used against the conservatives. Now, we’ve got this problem in Ottawa, it seems intractable,” said Nelson Wiseman, political scientist from the U of T.

However, Wiseman believes most protestors in Ottawa are simply anti-Trudeau.

“Everyone is frustrated about the mandates, and having to wear masks and socially distance and the big hassle of crossing the border. But, what I noticed from a lot of the the people at that protest is when they’re interviewed, they’re essentially anti-Trudeau. They’re anti-liberal, they didn’t vote Liberal in the first place, they just want to replace the government,” Wiseman explained.


-With files from Lucas Casaletto

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