It's becoming harder and harder to know where public health stops and where politics begin": Liberal MP 

“It’s becoming harder and harder to know where public health stops and where politics begin”: Liberal MP 

OTTAWA — The federal government must reassess its divisive and stigmatizing approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liberal member Joel Lightbound said Tuesday in a rare public display of internal dissent within the governing party.

Lightbound, who represents the Louis-Hebert riding in Quebec City, broke ranks with his political party and later resigned as Quebec’s caucus chairman, telling reporters the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has set a tone and policies that are divisive and risk undermining public trust.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people wondering why just a year ago, we were all united, all in this together,” Lightbound said. “Now that we have one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, we’ve never been so divided.”

Lightbound held his news conference at the same time a federal cabinet meeting was scheduled, a day after MPs held an emergency debate on the truckers protest outside Parliament Hill, which is in its second week.

The protest, dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” began late January when truckers and other protesters parked their trucks in front of Parliament Hill and demanded an end to vaccine mandates and other public health orders. Protest leaders have since demanded the government be unlawfully removed from power.

Lightbound condemned the hateful signs at the protest, such as Nazi symbols and Confederate flags, but he accused the government of painting all the protesters with the same brush and having no desire to adapt its policies to reflect the evolving science of the pandemic.

Mandatory vaccination for truckers, he said, is a policy that is “against recent World Health Organization recommendations and for which we have no figures as to what we are trying to accomplish in an epidemiological point of view.”

“The World Health Organization recently recommended dropping many border measures, including vaccine requirements, as they’ve proven to be ineffective in fighting the propagation of the Omicron variant,” he said.

He said he has become uncomfortable with the government’s tone around the pandemic, saying it “went from a more positive approach to one that stigmatizes and divides people.”

The government, he continued, should provide Canadians with a clear and measurable road map detailing when federal restrictions related to the pandemic will be lifted.

Lightbound said Canadians are confused to see other countries such as Ireland and Spain — which have lower vaccination rates than Canada — dropping all restrictions.

“People are worried that measures which ought to be exceptional and limited in time are being normalized with no end time, like vaccine passports, mandates and requirements for travellers,” he said. “They are worried because they feel it’s becoming harder and harder to know where public health stops and where politics begin.”

Trudeau told reporters later on Tuesday that the restrictions imposed by his government and others across the country have worked.

“This government has been focused every step of the way on following the best science, following the best public health advice to keep as many people safe as possible,” Trudeau said.

“We have seen the curves lower in Canada than elsewhere. We’ve seen lower death rates, we’ve seen quicker economic recovery because Canadians stepped up, because Canadians got vaccinated. I can understand frustrations with mandates but mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions or having to be restricted.”

Chief Government Whip Steven MacKinnon told reporters he would meet with Lightbound later in the day.

Lightbound, for his part, said he doesn’t intend on leaving the Liberal party and remains hopeful that the government will change its approach. Following the news conference, however, Lightbound announced his resignation as chairman of the party’s Quebec caucus. “I’m very happy to support my successor in the continuation of my work,” he said on Twitter.

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