Atlantic Canada 'taken for granted,' says Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole

·3 min read
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole will be on P.E.I. Friday and Saturday. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole will be on P.E.I. Friday and Saturday. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press - image credit)

The federal Conservative Party has a plan to move the economy of Atlantic Canada forward, party leader Erin O'Toole said Friday while speaking to Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

O'Toole will be on P.E.I. Friday and Saturday as part of a tour in advance of an expected federal election call within the next few weeks.

"I think Atlantic Canada in general has been kind of taken for granted by Justin Trudeau," said O'Toole.

"Nothing says that more than the fact that over six years the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency — something for entrepreneurs, small business — has never had an Atlantic Canadian minister."

O'Toole also noted Atlantic Canada's loss of representation on the Supreme Court and said markets for seafood are diminishing.

"It's really been disrespected," he said.

The Conservative Party's five-point economic recovery plan for emerging from the pandemic will lift all parts of the country, not just the big cities, O'Toole said.

The trouble with CERB

His party got behind quick approval of federal pandemic support programs, he said, but he accused the Liberal government of being too slow to make adjustments to those programs as it became clear they were needed.

In particular, he pointed his finger at CERB, and its successor CRB.

"If you talk to any tourism operator on the Island they would say to you they couldn't hire people in between the first and second wave, and they can't hire people now. That's not working," said O'Toole.

"On the CERB, there really should have been a push toward that only being there if there was no ability to work. When the Liberal government put all students onto the CERB that really was one of the most misguided moves, really, in our history, because it sent a bad signal."

The decision led to a lack of workers for hotels, restaurants and service industries, he said, and left a lot of family-owned businesses to do all the work themselves.

Conservative vs Progressive Conservative

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King has been explicit that the Progressive Conservative Party he leads is not connected to the federal Conservatives, and that there are important differences in policy.

The difference between the two parties is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that while the provincial PCs have been taking turns in governing the province with the Liberals in recent decades, the federal Conservatives have been almost entirely shut out of representing federal ridings on P.E.I. since 1988.

O'Toole said the parties are different, but related, and share some central values.

"We have the same desire to make sure that small business owners, people that work in the fishing industry and other parts of the sector aren't forgotten by Ottawa," he said.

"Many people feel that in the last few years they have been."

Employment Insurance

The Conservative Party remains committed to the EI system, said O'Toole, but it needs to be adjusted

"The seasonal nature of the Atlantic Canadian economy is critical to be respected within the EI system," he said.

"Having lived down here for many years and gotten to know the region — that's where I got my political start, was in Atlantic Canada as a volunteer — we need to make sure that programs like EI reflect and respect the seasonal nature of some of our economies."

O'Toole would not get specific about how to adjust EI, for example if P.E.I. should return to a single EI zone. He said those changes would wait until the post-pandemic economic recovery plan was well underway.

But he drew a line between the Conservatives and the other federal parties in their approach to developing federal financial support in the wake of the pandemic and CRB.

"The Liberal Party, the Greens, the NDP, they all support turning the CRB into a universal basic income," he said.

"Our country can't afford that. We'd lose health care and other things down the road, and it would change the fundamental social contract. Islanders are hard-working people."

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