Canada needs to reboot the economy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues while keeping the vulnerable and large population centres safe, Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O’Toole said this afternoon.
“We need to get this country working again,” he said. “Hard work emboldens the soul.”
O’Toole, speaking at a Surrey Board of Trade and South Asian Business Association event, told members Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has botched the response to a crisis that has “upended everything in our daily lives.”
The leader of parliament’s official opposition said small businesses are facing insolvencies at an alarming rate - and many restaurants may close, never to re-open.
He said the Liberal government’s response was slow, with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (or CERB) having led to high unemployment and labour market disruptions. O'Toole also noted that adding students to those eligible for the CERB decreased the number of people small businesses could have engaged.
The Canadian economy has begun to show signs of recovery on the job front. Statistics Canada data released Nov. 6 revealed bumps led by healthcare and social assistance (+8,400 jobs), manufacturing (+5,900 jobs), information, culture and recreation (+4,200 jobs) and natural resources (+3,900 jobs).
But O’Toole said more needs to be done - and that the attitude of “Ottawa knows best,” needs to end.
“The Liberal government doesn’t seem to understand that you need to create wealth to redistribute it,” said O’Toole, a lawyer and party leader since August.
O’Toole further charged the Liberals bungled the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, now the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (USMCA or CUSMA).
He called part of the agreement – particularly around aluminum – “the biggest trade failure in Canadian history.”
While Canadian industries like forestry and aluminum-smelting benefited from strong demand and prices in the U.S. under Trump, the forced renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement failed to end tariffs and duties on things like softwood lumber and aluminum ingots.
O’Toole said Ottawa should be more forceful in pursuing business in the areas of energy, forestry and rare earths.
“Let’s get the economy moving by making sure every cylinder in the engine is firing,” he said.
O’Toole also took aim at reports of business being audited by Canada Revenue Agency during the pandemic.
The Durham, Ontario MP said Ottawa should increase small businesses assistance and “not sic the taxman on them.
“They’re having audits ordered on them as they’re teetering on the edge of insolvency,” O’Toole said.