Erin O’Toole promises to appoint a vaccinated health minister if his party wins power

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole promised today to appoint a health minister who’s been vaccinated against COVID-19 if his party wins power on Sept. 20.

In an interview with Radio-Canada last week, O’Toole dodged a question about whether he’d pick a vaccinated MP to serve as the cabinet minister charged with managing much of the country’s COVID-19 response.

Unlike the other main parties, the Conservatives aren’t demanding that all their candidates get two doses of a COVID-19 shot. That’s prompted Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to argue the Conservative campaign presents a public health risk.

But when asked today by CBC News, O’Toole insisted that the health minister in a government led by him would have their shots.

“The answer to that question is yes,” he said, while accusing Trudeau of politicizing a health issue.

Trudeau has stepped up his attacks against O’Toole in recent days as CBC’s Poll Tracker shows the Conservatives have built a narrow lead over the incumbent Liberals in national polling.

WATCH: Erin O’Toole says his government would appoint a fully vaccinated health minister

Erin O’Toole says his government would appoint a fully vaccinated health minister

The CBC’s JP Tasker asked the Conservative leader whether he would appoint a fully vaccinated health minister if elected. 1:23

Speaking to reporters in Welland, Ont. on Monday, Trudeau accused O’Toole of being beholden to the “far-right, anti-vax wing” of the Conservative party, which has blocked him from embracing pro-vaccine policies — a claim O’Toole dismissed today.

“It’s been very, very disappointing to see every week in this campaign Mr. Trudeau misleading people and saying whatever he wants to say to try and get re-elected. He should not be doing that in a pandemic election that he called for his own self-interest,” O’Toole said.

Shortly before the election was called, the federal government announced a plan to implement a vaccine mandate for federal bureaucrats, transportation workers and most passengers travelling by air and rail, a program Ottawa says would help boost vaccination rates at a time when COVID-19 case counts are on the rise.

O’Toole is opposed to the plan. He has said that, if he’s elected prime minister, he would demand that public servants and travellers pass rapid COVID tests before going to work or boarding a bus, train, plane or ship.

“The fact that Erin O’Toole won’t show leadership on this is worrisome, particularly for all the people who did the right thing and got vaccinated and got through these tough years,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau has also promised a billion-dollar fund to help provinces create their own vaccine passports — credentials people vaccinated against COVID-19 could show to businesses to make everyday activities safer.

Trudeau has said that, if a province requires that everyone attending restaurants, gyms or other non-essential businesses show proof of full vaccination, Ottawa would pay to develop and roll out that vaccine passport program. O’Toole has said such documentation should be left to the provinces.

“According to Mr. O’Toole, people should be at risk if they get on a plane, catching COVID from the person across the aisle or exposing their kid in a restaurant to someone with COVID or risking themselves every time they go to the gym to get healthy. That’s not the path we want to be on,” Trudeau said.

The Conservatives have been highly critical of the government’s handling of the immunization campaign and the procurement process for COVID-19 shots. The party suggested for weeks that Canada was at the “back of the line” on deliveries, that the government “botched” the vaccine rollout and that Canadians might not be vaccinated “until 2030.”

“Here is something Mr. Trudeau seems to forget,” O’Toole said Tuesday. “I’ve been advocating for vaccines for over a year. In fact, I was very critical of Mr. Trudeau’s decision to partner with a state-owned Chinese enterprise to give vaccines to Canadians. That’s why we were four months late, it’s why we were behind other countries.”

After a slow start in the early months of this year, Canada is now a world leader in immunizations, with nearly 85 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated with at least one dose. But the pace of administering doses has slowed considerably since a blitz in April and May, with well below 100,000 first shots being handed out each day.

O’Toole has said vaccination is a personal health decision and no one should be forced to get a shot — but he has still set a goal of getting 90 per cent of the population vaccinated to beat back the worst effects of the delta variant.

“Vaccines are safe and effective. If people do have any questions, let’s answer those questions and get people vaccinated. We have a target to try and get to 90 per cent, to get close to herd immunity, so we can turn the page on COVID-19,” he said. “I think that’s what everyone wants.”