In the wake of the cancellation Friday of a rally featuring Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau over safety concerns due to protesters, leaders on the campaign trail Saturday faced the question: Has the temperature on the campaign trail become too hot, and dangerously so?
And that question led to another: How much are the leaders and their rhetoric contributing to the tension?
This follows the revelation that several campaign volunteers of Kyle Seeback, the Conservative candidate in Dufferin-Caledon, were present at the protest Friday in Bolton, Ont. where the Liberals were set to hold a rally.
Also on Saturday, Calgary Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel Garner released a statement about being threatened and accosted, after a video surfaced showing her being approached by a man demanding she answer questions while she was seated in a restaurant having dinner with her husband.
“This increase in violent language, threats and abuse certainly isn’t confined to politics,” she said. “And after some recent experiences, I know it’s getting worse.”
The Bolton event was cancelled Friday as dozens of anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters — some of whom appear to be following Trudeau around the country — hurled obscenities and Nazi references, sparking safety concerns.
The Liberals have promised to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for federal employees as well as required for air and rail travellers, and Trudeau has expressed support and promised funding for provinces that are developing their own vaccine passports.
“I learned tonight a few of my supporters attended the protest outside Justin Trudeau’s event tonight,” Seeback said in a brief statement late Friday. “My campaign has zero-tolerance for obscenities or threatening behaviour against any candidate. Accordingly, these individuals are no longer welcome on my campaign.”
Seeback did not specify how many supporters are no longer associated with his campaign. Four individuals wearing blue “Team Seeback” T-shirts were spotted in photos of the crowd, The Canadian Press reported.
His campaign office did not return a request for comment Saturday, and Conservative party HQ did not provide an answer, instead pointing to his statement and one from leader Erin O’Toole who said: “No one deserves to be subjected to harassment and obscenities.”
Speaking in Fredericton on Saturday, O’Toole insisted he’s running “on a positive campaign for the future of this country.
“I don’t have any time for intimidation or harassment,” he said. “It’s totally unacceptable.”
He said any volunteers who protested in Bolton would no longer be welcome on the Conservative campaign. “I expect professionalism, I expect respect. I respect my opponents,” he added.
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O’Toole was in New Brunswick making an announcement focusing on affordability, promising to lower food prices by increasing the maximum penalty for price-fixing from $24 million to $100 million and by bringing in criminal sanctions — including jail — for executives convicted of price-fixing.
The Conservative leader does not support mandatory vaccination, calling it a personal decision and has instead promised daily rapid testing for unvaccinated federal workers, as well as rapid testing for rail and air passengers.
Asked Saturday if his stance on vaccines could be fuelling protests such as the one in Bolton, O’Toole said he has repeatedly encouraged Canadians to get vaccinated, emphasizing the vaccines are safe and effective.
“That’s why my wife and I recorded our vaccinations, we had them videotaped, because it’s very important that people get the message,” he said.
He said he would always respect what the provinces are doing to keep their residents safe, including vaccine passports.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — who has faced racist remarks during the campaign — also faced questions during a stop in Sudbury, Ont., on what is driving the vitriol in this election campaign, and whether the leaders are adding to the tension through their rhetoric against their opponents.
“It’s a really important question and I’ve seen this happen a number of times where in some cases political leaders attack another colleague just for the attack’s sake, where the attack is just to put someone down, that I think is not helpful, doesn’t help us make a better decision,” he said.
Singh, who wants a national vaccine passport system, was in Sudbury speaking about his party’s pledge to permanently remove interest on federal student loans and forgive up to $20,000 in student debt.
Trudeau, as previously planned, had no public events Saturday. Speaking after the cancellation of the rally on Friday, he said he’s “never seen this intensity of anger on the campaign trail, or in Canada.”
In her statement Saturday, Rempel Garner said that in the last two weeks, she’s had two men “jump out of a car with cameras and chase after me down the street demanding I respond to conspiracy theories.
“For these individuals in these moments, I feel like they don’t see me as a human. In those moments, I also fear,” she wrote.
This is on the top of regular online hate and a death threat recently received at her office over the phone, she said.
“This meant I can’t advertise the location of my campaign office. I can’t attend public events where my attendance has been advertised,” she wrote. “I’ve had to enhance security measures. I’m on edge and feel fear when I’m getting in and out of my car, and out in public in general.”
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant
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