Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole returned Pierre Poilievre to his old job as finance critic, but left former leadership rival Leslyn Lewis off the Opposition’s front bench as he released the names of those who will serve in his shadow cabinet when Parliament returns.
O’Toole chose his party’s critics at a time when he’s dealing with some members of his caucus expressing what he characterizes as unhelpful and confusing messages about getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
In explaining his picks for the team, the leader made a point of saying those selected “will be ready to address vaccine hesitancy.”
Among those who have drawn criticism from O’Toole is Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu, who wasn’t invited to stay on as a critic and apologized on Tuesday for statements she made during an interview with CTV’s “Question Period.”
In the interview that aired Sunday, she compared COVID-19 to polio when it spread during the early 20th century, but she claimed the novel coronavirus doesn’t pose the same “frequency of risk” in terms of deaths or disabilities.
“Upon reflection, I recognize how dangerous it is to share misinformation about the severity of COVID-19 and the safety and efficacy of vaccines. I retract these comments in full,” Gladu said in a statement Tuesday.
“I apologize unreservedly to Canadians. I also apologize to my caucus colleagues and leader for the distraction my comments have created.”
Gladu spoke out late last week about plans she and between 15 to 30 Conservative MPs and senators have to organize a “mini-caucus” within the Tory’s existing one to advocate for those who face consequences for not adhering to vaccine mandates.
Lewis was another Ontario representative to raise eyebrows with social media posts about COVID-19, particularly with one several weeks ago where she questioned the efficacy of vaccinating children.
She also finds herself without a critic role despite a strong showing during last year’s bid to run for party leader against O’Toole, picking up a lot of support with the party’s Western base and social conservative wing.
On Tuesday, she congratulated her colleagues who were welcomed into critic roles, saying she looked forward to working with them “as we advocate for a better, stronger, more united Canada.”
Other names missing from O’Toole’s list include B.C. MP Mark Strahl, who has said since the election Conservatives need to be clear they still oppose vaccine mandates, and Rosemarie Falk, a Saskatchewan MP who made headlines during the race for saying the party opposed proof-of-vaccination documents for international travel, despite O’Toole stating otherwise.
The official Opposition shadow cabinet is tasked with holding government ministers to account and is the closest thing the Opposition leader has to naming an inner circle.
Tuesday’s list saw the return of Poilievre into his past role as the party’s finance critic, where he made a name for himself and garnered a popular following among Conservative supporters.
The decision to move him back follows some head-scratching that happened last February, after he was transitioned into a role as jobs and industry critic and replaced by Ed Fast.
O’Toole explained the change on Tuesday by highlighting how Conservatives are focused on fighting inflation, and that Poilievre has been the “one voice” in Ottawa to spend the past year raising concerns about its risks on Canadians’ cost of living.
“Pierre is one of our strongest communicators. He’s tough in the House. I see the Liberals quiver when he rises to his feet,” he added.
Fast moves from finance into being the critic for science, innovation and industry. Well-known Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner also shifts from health to natural resources.
That comes in the wake of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promising to cap greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s oil and gas sector in an effort to ramp up Canada’s fight against climate change, raising concerns from leaders in Alberta and Saskatchewan about the toll that will take on jobs and the economic future of the industry.
“Canada’s natural resources sector is often politically exploited to yield hollow victories as opposed to meaningful results on climate, social inclusion or economic opportunity,” Rempel Garner said in a statement.
“The Liberals must be made to recognize that choosing this path harms our country.”
O’Toole decided to keep Manitoba Conservative MP Candice Bergen as deputy leader, and former leader Andrew Scheer as infrastructure critic, while adding some new MPs from Ontario including Melissa Lantsman in transport and Michelle Ferreri in tourism.
—Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press