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With a fall election looming, Trudeau, O’Toole and Singh trade barbs in the last Commons sitting

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The House of Commons will rise today for what could be the last time before an anticipated fall election — and party leaders are already testing out their pitches to voters.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole described the Liberals today as tax-and-spend elitists who have managed the pandemic poorly. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the prime minister hasn’t done enough to bolster social programs to help the most vulnerable.

The Liberals, in turn, said the opposition was obstructing “progressive” legislation designed to prop up a pandemic-ravaged economy, protect LGBTQ kids, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support Canada’s arts and entertainment sector.

In a speech to his caucus Wednesday, O’Toole raised the spectre of a coalition government if voters again return a minority Parliament.

‘Four different shades of red’

O’Toole said only an overwhelming vote for the Conservatives will put an end to a Liberal government propped up by Bloc Québécois, Green and NDP MPs largely sympathetic to its agenda.

Twelve years ago, O’Toole said, these parties signed a pact to govern Canada as a coalition — a reference to a failed agreement negotiated by former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and his NDP counterpart, Jack Layton. Now, he said, left-leaning parties have aligned in this parliamentary session to pass bills “spending other people’s money” and push the federal debt to an eye-popping level.

He said the progressive parties in Parliament are not distinct but rather “four different shades of red.”

“They’re all the same and they’re all part of the problem,” O’Toole said, adding voters have been left with an “illusion of choice” between parties bent on “overspending.”

“There aren’t five choices for Canadians — there are two,” he added. “Canada’s Conservatives on one side and the Liberal-NDP-Green-Bloc coalition on the other.”

O’Toole also presented himself as an ardent defender of Canada’s institutions against “activist voices” who, he said, are “tearing down” the country by cancelling Canada Day celebrations and dismantling statues of past leaders.

“I can’t stay silent when people want to cancel Canada Day. I’m very proud to be Canadian and I know most people are as well,” he said.

“We are not a perfect country. No country is. There is no place on this planet whose history can withstand close scrutiny. But there is a difference between acknowledging where we’ve fallen short and always tearing the country down.”

Singh pushed back against O’Toole’s claim that his party is some sort of Liberal offshoot, saying New Democrats want reforms far more ambitious than those the governing party has proposed so far.

In this parliamentary session, Singh said, the Liberals ignored calls from his party to implement a universal pharmacare program, hike taxes on the “ultra rich” and force long-term care homes to operate on a not-for-profit basis.

Liberals, Conservatives siding with the ‘ultra-rich’ — Singh

The Liberals also aligned with the Tories to pass back-to-work legislation for striking Port of Montreal workers, Singh said — something his party strongly opposed.

He said the NDP will campaign on going further and faster in rolling out more social programs.

“New Democrats stand on the side of the people and the Liberals and Conservatives stand on the side of the ultra rich, the ultra wealthy and they hurt people,” Singh said.

WATCH: Singh attacks Trudeau’s record in final QP before summer break

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to be on the election trail before the Commons returns on September 20. 2:41

While Singh said he’s ready to fight an election at any time, he’s in no rush to get on the campaign trail while the country is still fighting the pandemic. An early election call would “put at risk all the work we’ve done so far,” he said.

“It doesn’t make sense to do it while we’re in the midst of the pandemic and we’re not through with this thing yet,” said Singh.

Liberals use conversion therapy vote against Conservatives

In a sign that the party is intent on painting the Conservatives as backwards and out of step on social issues ahead of a possible fall vote, Liberal parliamentarians jumped on the Tories who voted against Bill C-6 — legislation to ban so-called “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ people.

More than half of the Conservative caucus rejected the legislation Tuesday. Some social conservative members in the caucus said they were worried that it would criminalize conversations between adolescents and religious leaders and therapists.

The Liberals maintain any practice designed to forcibly “convert” LGBTQ people to heterosexuality is barbarous and must be banned.

“More than half of Conservative MPs voted against a bill to criminalize conversion therapy — a harmful, abusive and discredited practice which isn’t therapy,” Ontario Liberal MP Adam van Koeverden said in a tweet after the vote.

“If any of these MPs ever wish LGBTQ2+ folks a Happy Pride or claim ally-ship, please call them out on their hypocrisy.”

Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez has also chastised the Conservatives for stalling other government legislation like the reforms to the Broadcasting Act in Bill C-10 and C-12, the net-zero emissions bill.

He said the Tories were doing everything they could to “block” and “obstruct” the government’s “progressive” agenda.

Those bills are various stages of the legislative process and the government has signalled it expects the Senate to pass them before Parliament as a whole rises sometime next week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also criticized the opposition’s treatment of Iain Stewart, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

President of the Public Health Agency of Canada Iain Stewart, right, approaches the bar in the House of Commons to be admonished by the Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 21, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Stewart was summoned to the Commons Monday for admonishment after his agency failed to hand over unredacted documents related to the mysterious dismissal of two scientists working at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

The Liberals maintain it was unfair to publicly scold the man behind the agency leading Canada’s fight against COVID-19.

“We have seen a level of obstructionism and toxicity in the house that is of real concern,” Trudeau said.

Singh rejected the Liberal claim that Parliament is dysfunctional, toxic or beset by obstructionist tactics. He said the Liberals have manufactured a crisis to justify triggering an election.

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