Federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told a Surrey Board of Trade virtual Zoom meeting Friday that an “Ottawa knows best” approach is not needed to fight the pandemic.
It was the first time O’Toole spoke at a B.C. event, albeit virtually and from Ottawa, since winning his party’s leadership race in August. “While provincial governments have managed to respond quickly to the acute health aspects of the pandemic, the national response was not as effective and the statistics show that.”
O’Toole said that Canada has one of the highest unemployment rates amongst G20 nations. “Sectors like manufacturing, including some in Surrey, have seen a double-digit decline in revenues. Airlines are experiencing a 95 per cent reduction over levels from the period last year. Small businesses are teetering on the edge of insolvency, and some estimates suggest 60 per cent of restaurants could close before the new year.”
O’Toole shredded the Trudeau Liberal government’s record in what sounded like a campaign advertisement.
“Ottawa does not always know best,” O’Toole said. “We need to get this country working again. Hard work emboldens the soul.”
Canada’s economic response to the pandemic was “late and confused,” he said, with the Trudeau government “fumbling” the wage subsidy program and creating the CERB, which he called a “simple and no-rules, no-controls” program which “began to change the culture of work in Canada” by adding students, encouraging them to collect assistance “rather than to work with small businesses who were struggling to maintain operations in the pandemic.”
“The CERB was vastly by tens of billions over-subscribed,” O’Toole charged. “The Liberal government doesn’t seem to understand you need to create wealth in order to redistribute it.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the board of trade, asked O’Toole what his plan is to get Canada out of the “fiscal fog” it is in. He said Canada is looking at a deficit “north of $300 billion and a plan would would have to be put in place, over a decade, to get the country back on balance while also allowing supports, “all based on employment and economic activity. Programs like CERB and others have to be wound up, they’re actually hurting private sector hiring, particularly in the service and other entry level jobs, they’re hurting the small businesses that can’t hire and are already struggling.
“Any government spending should be focused on surviving the crisis for business, and economic activity,” he said.
“COVID has set us back but it will not stop us.”
O’Toole said the federal government needs to help small businesses more and “not sic the taxman on them.
“They’re having audits ordered on them as they’re teetering on the edge of insolvency,” he said.
The Conservative has recovered from COVID-19, which he figures he contracted in the workplace. As for distributing a vaccine, he said, “the Trudeau government has not learned the lessons from the first wave of the pandemic.”
O’Toole suggested that Canada look to Taiwan for guidance.
“I don’t want to compete against the United States, the worst student in the class. We should be competing against the best student in the class, Taiwan, other countries, and I haven’t seen that approach from the Trudeau government.”
Among those listening in on the Surrey Board of Trade’s Zoom meeting were Surrey city Councillors Linda Annis, Steven Pettigrew, several Tory MPs, and Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal, for Surrey-Newton.
“I’ll even say hello to Sukh Dhaliwal, who’s not on the same side as us.” O’Toole remarked. “We’re keeping the seats warm on the opposition side for Sukh and his colleagues after the next election.”