Health issues dominated the federal campaign trail Friday with the Liberals stressing the importance of vaccination against COVID-19, a Conservative pledge to enhance benefits for seriously ill workers and a prescription for universal pharmacare from the NDP.
During a stop in Mississauga, Ont., Justin Trudeau said a re-elected Liberal government would procure enough vaccines to ensure all Canadians have access to free COVID-19 booster shots and any needed second-generation vaccines.
Trudeau also promised a $1-billion fund to assist provinces and territories that usher in a requirement for proof-of-vaccine credentials for non-essential businesses, such as restaurants and gyms, as well as public spaces.
British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec are moving ahead with so-called vaccine passports, and Trudeau said he hoped Doug Ford would follow, saying it was time for Ontario’s Progressive Conservative premier to listen to public health officials.
“A vaccine mandate for non-essential businesses is a good idea,” Trudeau said during his appearance at a restaurant. “It keeps people safe. It encourages everyone to do the right thing. It keeps our businesses open and it keeps our economy rebuilding.”
Visiting Thunder Bay, Ont., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called on the federal government to issue a national vaccine credential.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just have one central document that we get from the federal government and we can use in any province we travel to?” Singh said. “It would just make life easier.”
Protesters who oppose masks, vaccines and lockdown measures to fight COVID-19 have dogged the Liberal leader on the campaign trail.
“That’s a choice that they are expressing loudly and clearly,” Trudeau said Friday.
“But it’s not just a choice that they’re making for themselves. It’s a choice they’re imposing on others. We only finish with this pandemic if everyone steps up, not just for themselves, but for each other.”
However, Trudeau did not provide a direct answer when asked if he had special permission for more than the provincial limit of 25 people to crowd into the restaurant for his announcement.
In Corner Brook, N.L., Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he would increase employment insurance benefits for ailing workers to 52 weeks from 26, a move that could help people fight life-threatening diseases like cancer.
“Canadian workers should know we have their backs if they become seriously ill,” O’Toole said.
“I’m sure that we have all known someone, a friend, a relative who has battled cancer. We all know how devastating it is. So, we can all imagine if, on top of all that, you also had to worry that your EI benefits were running out, and that you might not be able to put food on the table for your family.”
Singh pledged Friday to begin working with provinces immediately to deliver a single-payer, public pharmacare program for all Canadians.
The New Democrats say millions can’t afford to take the medications they need and must skip doses, cut their pills in half, or even go without them.
“We know it doesn’t have to be this way,” Singh said. “We know that we can actually work together to solve this problem.”
The NDP says negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies would help make prescription drugs free, saving an average family $550 a year.
Asked how he would get countrywide buy-in for the plan, Singh said it would save money not just for people, but also for the provinces.
—Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press