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COVID-19 pandemic looms over final stretch of federal election campaign

OTTAWA — The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic coloured some heated political debate Saturday in the final stretch of the federal election campaign.
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OTTAWA — The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic coloured some heated political debate Saturday in the final stretch of the federal election campaign.

Justin Trudeau touted the importance of getting vaccinated as key to a safer future, while the NDP's Jagmeet Singh criticized the Liberal leader for failing to push harder for paid sick leave and proof-of-vaccination certificates.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, meanwhile, insisted his party was running a safe campaign but would not say how many of his candidates are fully immunized against the virus.

O'Toole has repeatedly taken Trudeau to task for calling an election during the pandemic.

"I will not use a health crisis to divide Canadians as Mr. Trudeau has with this election," the Conservative leader said during a swing through southern Ontario.

O'Toole tried to cast the debate forward, citing a need to be ready for the possibility of another pandemic.

He pointed to the Tory platform, which includes promises to ramp up domestic vaccine research, trials and manufacturing capacity as well as domestic production of critical supplies and better means of detecting and assessing health-related threats.

The goal is "to be more prepared for a pandemic, to not be relying on others, to rely on ourself," O'Toole said.

Campaigning north of Toronto, Trudeau accused O'Toole of telling his party's candidates to hide their vaccination status. 

The question of who Canadians trust to get through the pandemic is a core one for voters, because everyone wants to see the end of COVID-19, he said.

"We are seeing a fourth wave. It is concentrated amongst unvaccinated people — it is concentrated, actually, in those conservative western provinces that didn't move forward as strongly on vaccination as other parts of the country," Trudeau said.

"The reality is Canadians deserve to make a clear choice."

Voters head to the polls on Monday, though many have already cast ballots in advance polls or through the mail.

Opinion polls generally place the Liberals and Conservatives in a deadlock, with notable leads for Trudeau's party in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec.

Singh seemed unfazed Saturday when asked about his party's lack of movement in the polls, seemingly stalled in third place.

"Canadians are going to decide what type of Parliament we have on Monday, and that's going to be their choice," Singh said in Saskatoon.

"I've been hearing from so many people that have been saying, I can't vote for the Liberals again, I can't pay the price of their broken promises."

Looking to a pandemic recovery, Singh stressed the importance of ensuring people don't have to go to work when they are ill.

"We know that many times in this pandemic, people were going into work sick, and that workplace transmission of the virus is one of the highest sources of transmission. We want to make sure people don't have to do that anymore."

The NDP want to continue supports for small businesses and "make sure that big box stores and large corporations start paying their fair share to invest that back into people," he added.

Singh also emphasized the New Democrats' promise to end privatized long-term care.

"We have a plan to make sure people are at the heart of our solutions and that health care is something we invest in."

Green Leader Annamie Paul, campaigning in British Columbia, called for greater co-operation across levels of government and political parties to combat the virus.

"We need clear information so that people can can go about their lives knowing that they're doing their fair share to help us to defeat COVID once and for all," Paul said. 

"And we also need a much more vigorous education campaign for those who continue to hesitate to get vaccinated."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.

— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone and Nick Wells.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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