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O'Toole calls for 'war footing,' MacKay suggests tax changes to address COVID-19

Last Updated Mar 16, 2020 at 3:59 pm EST

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 18, 2018 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole called Monday for the country to be placed on “war footing” to combat the spread of COVID-19, the latest escalation of rhetoric in the race now thrown into flux by the rapidly evolving crisis.

O’Toole said the federal government should invoke the Emergencies Act so the federal government can prohibit travel, enforce self-isolation and control assemblies, while also mobilizing the military to back up the health system.

“Now is the time to put our government and our economy on a war footing, with leadership from the top,” he said in an email to supporters.

Public health officials across the country are already mandating massive restrictions on travel and gatherings, two factors now wreaking havoc with the leadership race as it nears the next deadline for contestants: all who wish to be on the ballot must submit $300,000 and 3,000 signatures by March 25.

So far, O’Toole and Peter MacKay are the only candidates who’ve hit that target, with six others still racing to raise the funds and gather the signatures.

Several have called for the deadline to change.

On Tuesday, Alberta businessman Rick Peterson suspended his own grassroots fundraising efforts, saying he was exploring alternative sources of financing. He wants the deadline pushed back to April 17.

“No matter how important this leadership race is, the health and well-being of family finances trumps everything today,” he said.

“We’ll not be asking individuals to send money to a political campaign at a time when every dollar counts.”

Candidate Marilyn Gladu suggested it’s wrong for anyone to be campaigning at all.

“Canadians are appropriately focused now on the health and safety of their families and communities,” she said,

“There will be more than sufficient time to engage them in an effective leadership campaign when the immediate threat of pandemic COVID-19 has been eliminated.”

But the leadership organizing committee is so far holding off on making major changes.

They were expected to send a letter to campaigns Tuesday highlighting the best practices suggested by public health authorities, and pointing out that there are ways to gather support besides in-person events.

O’Toole and MacKay have been posting photos to social media showing them working the phones, though their campaigns have each been accusing the other of continuing to hold public events despite a promise not to.

As O’Toole demanded that the military be spooled up, MacKay called for the government not to just spend more of its own money to combat the economic challenges being created by the spread of the virus.

“Before the government spends on new programs, we should help people help themselves with their own money,” he said, suggesting tax changes that could get more cash flowing in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press