Biggest political victim of COVID-19 has been Conservative Party of Canada

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Lame duck leader Andrew Scheer continues to shoot from the lip in his criticisms of everything the government is doing to minimize impacts of the COVID-19 world pandemic.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on May 4, 2020.

OTTAWA—The biggest political victim of COVID has been the national Conservative Party.

Lame duck leader Andrew Scheer continues to shoot from the lip in his criticisms of everything the government is doing to minimize impacts of the COVID 19 world pandemic.

In the face of the pandemic, we have the unusual picture of provincial premiers and the prime minister working together on a daily basis to manage the health crisis and plan for a staged reopening of the economy.

Thus far, even Ontario premier Doug Ford is regularly praising the prime minister and all the premiers of other provinces across the country.

That air of camaraderie may be blown out of the water as Quebec moves to reopen its economy while the province still has the highest rate of infection and death in the country.

As Quebec Premier François Legault promises to free up roads leading into his province, Ford may be forced to close Ontario’s doors. On April 30, his province reported the largest number of COVID-19 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Given the curve has not fully flattened, the last thing the country needs is the spread of infection through unnecessary travel.

The decision to open child-care centres and elementary schools, but keep secondary schools closed does not seem to be based on the best science. If I were a Quebec parent, I am not sure I would want my children at school while the virus is still killing people in large numbers.

Quebec’s decision may cause a rebound of coronavirus cases, making the situation even worse for a province that has already suffered more than 26,500 COVID cases and almost 1,800 deaths. Their mortality rate is currently larger than the combined death rate for the rest of the country.

It is understandable that Quebec teachers, and workers have serious questions about the government’s move to be the first out of the gate when it comes to social reintegration.

Quebec is banking on herd immunity, with the belief that the large number of COVID carriers may provide a reduction in the spread of the disease.

But that is a huge gamble, because if it fails, the Quebec economy will sputter while the deaths will continue to rise.

But all provinces and the federal government have been careful in refusing to comment on the Quebec decision, not wanting to be drawn into an interprovincial fight at a moment when Canadians expect all provinces to be working together.

The only one who has not gotten that message is the outgoing leader of the Conservative Party.

Andrew Scheer’s ad hominem attacks on everything that has been done by the federal government ring very hollow to the population at large.

It may be playing well to his base, but it is certainly not helping his party position itself for an election that might come sooner rather than later.

The racist attack by leadership candidate Derek Sloan on Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam fuels the impression that the Conservative Party has lost its way.

While the Conservative’s own caucus in Ontario is trying to get Sloan to apologize or be turfed from caucus, not a single opponent in the leadership race stepped in to attack his claim that Tam is a pawn of the Chinese government.

Peter MacKay, the onetime frontrunner in the leadership race postponed because of COVID, missed an opportunity to cut ties with Sloan by a public disavowal of his claims.

Instead, MacKay and all other leadership candidates refrain from criticism in an effort to build bridges with Sloan, whose previous public outbursts include the claim that being gay is a choice.

Sadly, Sloan’s viewpoints appear to be fairly popular with the rank and file of the party, which is why other leadership candidates do not want to attack him.

They need the support of his followers.

And Scheer’s public attacks on the government’s COVID-fighting plans is equally out of step with the rest of the country.

It would be so much easier for the next Conservative leader to fight the Liberals on the economic front in the aftermath of the financial cost of COVID.

The Parliamentary Budget Office says the government could face an economic contraction of 12 per cent this year, which would result in a potential $252-billion deficit.

With those numbers, all the opposition leader has to do is wait for a recession to do the government in.

Instead, extreme Conservative views are serving to strengthen the government’s potential pre-election hand.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.