A three-term Quebec Liberal MP is raising questions about the Justin Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic and says he agrees with fellow Quebec Liberal MP Joel Lightbound who yesterday said the federal government’s response has become “politicized” and “divisive.”
“He [Lightbound] said exactly what a lot of us think,” said Liberal MP Yves Robillard (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Que.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “I agree with everything that Lightbound said.”
In a highly unusual move, Lightbound (Louis-Hébert, Que.) held a press conference yesterday and criticized his government for playing politics in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in deep divisions in the country. At the start of the press conference, he distanced himself from the ongoing trucker’s protest, dubbed “Freedom Convoy 22,” but said that the concerns of these demonstrators and other Canadians should not be ignored. Lightbound said that he’s been hearing similar concerns from his constituents, most who are vaccinated. He said some of his constituents who shared their views with him are parents whose children are sinking into depression, and businesspeople and artists who are incurring significant business losses. At the same time, Canadians see countries around the world who have either dropped all their restrictions or are headed in that direction, Lightbound said.
“I’ve heard from people worried that those making the decisions seem at times to have been blind to the fact that we’re not all equal for lockdowns that not everyone can earn a living on a Macbook at the cottage. I’ve heard people worried that a few might have lost sight of the quiet and discreet suffering of the many,” said Lightbound in his press conference yesterday, who until yesterday was the Liberal Quebec caucus chair.
“I’ve heard people in great pain to see some of their friends whom they love and respect but who’ve decided, for whatever reason, we might very well disagree with, who’ve decided not to get vaccinated and as a consequence, are jobless, selling what they have and moving to the United States, away from their communities, away from their friends and from their families,” Lightbound said.
“I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government have changed drastically since the last election campaign. It went from a more positive approach to one that stigmatizes and divides people,” Lightbound said.
After the press conference, Lightbound had a meeting with Chief Government Whip Steven MacKinnon (Gatineau, Que.) and stepped down as the regional caucus chair for Quebec, but MacKinnon said Lightbound would remain a Liberal MP.
Robillard said that he had a conversation with Lightbound this morning and expressed his support to him. Going forward, he said, they will work on this issue together.
In his remarks to reporters yesterday, Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) said that the restrictions are necessary and that they’re working to help bring COVID under control.
“Quite frankly it’s worked,” Trudeau told reporters yesterday. “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.”
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined a direct response to Robillard’s interview with The Hill Times. The PMO, however, referred to Trudeau’s remarks he made this morning in reaction to Lightbound’s press conference, prior to the national caucus meeting.
“Over the past many, many weeks, I’ve had many conversations with all different members of the caucus, including Mr. Lightbound on a number of occasions,” Trudeau told reporters. “I spoke with him yesterday morning. We’re going to continue to talk. We’re going to continue to go through this the way Canadians are, where yes, we’re all tired. Yes, we’re all frustrated, but we continue to be there for each other. We continue to know that science and public health rules and guidance is the best way through this pandemic, is the way we’re going to get to the other side.”
Meanwhile, Robillard told The Hill Times that the restrictions are taking their toll on his mental health and other Canadians. He said he’s planning on seeing a doctor about this.
Prior to the Christmas break, MacKinnon instructed all Liberal caucus members in writing to avoid all non-essential travel because of COVID. Robillard, however, had already planned on travelling to visit family in Costa Rica. He informed MacKinnon about his plans to which the whip expressed his disapproval. Still, Robillard went ahead. In reaction, MacKinnon dropped the Quebec MP from the House National Defence Committee and sent an email to all MPs about this.
“Members of our Liberal caucus know the importance of adhering to, and surpassing, health and safety measures brought forward by all levels of government,” said MacKinnon in his email sent out to all Liberal MPs and staffers on Dec. 22. “As such, Liberal MPs were informed that nonessential international travel was to be avoided, and I was profoundly disappointed to learn that Yves Robillard has decided to travel outside the country despite this measure. Although the Member is fully vaccinated, his trip is not considered essential and he will be removed from his parliamentary Committee duties as a result. I also intend to further discuss the matter with him upon his return.”
Robillard told The Hill Times that he went out of the country because at that time the international travel was not banned. He said Trudeau recommended to caucus members against travelling during the Christmas break but did not disallow anyone. Robillard said that before arriving back in Canada he had two negative tests and arrived back in Canada COVID-free. He said he has no regrets about travelling out of country during the Christmas break.
“He [Trudeau] said to everybody in the caucus ‘I strongly disapprove those who are going to travel during that time,’ but he never said, ‘Don’t,’ ” said Robillard. “It’s not something that even the prime minister can say. We all have our authority, we all have our conscience. And, I was not going there to please anybody, I have family over there and I’m so happy that I went and, you know what, I came back with two tests, one from over there and one at my arrival, and I didn’t have COVID. So those who are going to tell me that I was in danger, no. People over there are respecting the masks and the [social] distance.”
He also objected to MacKinnon’s decision to drop him from the House National Defence Committee and sending an email to all Liberal MPs about this. He said he wants the whip to apologize to him for this.
“He’s cutting my wings, and he’s going to regret it, I tell you,” said Robillard. “He does that not only with me. So, no, I didn’t need that. And, it troubles me because it’s my mental health that’s taking the shock. That’s why I want to see my doctor, my family doctor.”
By deadline, The Hill Times was not able to reach MacKinnon.
Robillard said that he’s not worried even if he’s kicked out of the caucus. He said there are more MPs in the caucus “who’ve just had enough” and “are not going to pass the rest of our mandate like that,” but did not get into details, except to say he will speak up more frequently on issues that are on his mind.