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O’Toole looks to woo voters in Toronto suburbs on home stretch of election campaign

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WHITBY, Ont. — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is making his pitch to voters in the Greater Toronto Area, a vote-rich region that will play a crucial role in the federal election on Sept. 20.

The GTA sprawls across more than 50 ridings, the vast majority of which are held by Liberals, including all 25 seats in Toronto proper.

But O’Toole has suburban and exurban voters in his sights as he aims to boost the Conservative share of the vote in the broader region.

The party won a majority of seats there 10 years ago, but lost out to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015 and saw its vote share drop another five points under then-leader Andrew Scheer in 2019.

At a regional transit station in Whitby, Ont., O’Toole stressed housing affordability, rapid transit projects, tackling gang violence and improving health care.

The event in a GO Transit parking lot marked the Tory leader’s second visit to Liberal-held Whitby in two days before he flies to British Columbia to make his closing arguments to voters on the West Coast.

O’Toole’s platform plank on public transit pledges to “immediately invest in projects” that cut commute times and create jobs, but attaches no specific funding amount.

Asked Saturday if he would commit at least $5 billion to transit, O’Toole declined to offer specifics.

“I’m going to get things built. I’m going to get shovels in the ground, I’m going to get things done,” he said, accusing Trudeau of never backing up “ambition” with “achievement.”

The GTA pitch did not go off without a hitch.

On Friday, the Conservative party confirmed they had dumped Beaches-East York candidate Lisa Robinson after the riding’s Liberal incumbent, Nate Erskine-Smith, highlighted Islamophobic tweets from 2017.

“We’re running a positive campaign based on bringing the country together and getting the country back on its feet from an economic point of view. And I want people on my team to share that,” O’Toole said Saturday.

Robinson denied that the account, titled “Ward 1 city councillor, candidate,” was hers.

“The information contained in Mr. Erskine-Smith’s social media post was generated by a fake social media account which I reported to police in 2018. I have also signed an attestation confirming these facts,” she said in a post on her campaign Facebook page Friday.

“Racism and Islamophobia have no place in the Conservative Party of Canada or my campaign.”

O’Toole also appeared to give tacit approval for Tory candidates who are not fully vaccinated to campaign in retirement residences, so long as they abide by public health measures.

The question came up after Conservative candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha, Michelle Ferreri, posted photos of herself to social media canvassing in a seniors’ residence despite having received only one shot.

“We will be following all measures, including vaccines, daily rapid testing, masking and social distancing, to keep people safe. That’s not only an expectation, it’s a commitment that all members of our team have to keep people safe in a pandemic election that Mr. Trudeau called,” O’Toole said.

The Conservatives say they will prioritize construction of four rapid transit projects in the GTA: the Ontario line, which would include a section running underneath Queen Street; an extension to the Yonge subway line reaching into Markham and Richmond Hill; the controversial three-stop Scarborough subway extension; and an add-on to the Eglington light-rail line bound for Etobicoke and Mississauga.

O’Toole also zeroed in on the housing crisis, re-announcing a suite of measures to cool the heated housing market and put home ownership within reach of more Canadians. The plan, which folds into an affordability thread he’s been weaving throughout the campaign, includes building a million homes in three years and raising barriers to foreign investors.

Similarly, the Liberals have promised to build 1.4 million homes over four years and block foreign nationals from buying them for two, as well as promising to curb the practice of “flipping” properties.

“Far too many people, especially young people, are priced out of the housing market,” O’Toole said.

“And too many are already struggling with mortgage and car payments, buying gas and groceries, while Justin Trudeau drives up the cost of everything with his out-of-control spending, borrowing and debt,” he said.

Home prices have continued to climb this year — even in suburban corners of the GTA — as remote work persists and business shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic helped people save cash for big purchases.

The average price of a home in the area rose to $1.07 million in August from about $951,000 at the same time last year, according to the Toronto Regional Real Estate board.

O’Toole sought to stressed his roots in the area, noting he grew up in Bowmanville, Ont., when his dad worked at a GM plant in nearby Oshawa before going on to serve as a Tory lawmaker in the provincial legislature for 19 years.

“I had a 905 phone number growing up. And I still do,” he said, adding he knows well the daily suburban commute from his time as a Bay Street lawyer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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Environment

CP NewsAlert: City of Iqaluit declares emergency due to water shortage

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IQALUIT, Nunavut — The City of Iqaluit has declared a state of emergency due to a water shortage.

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The Canadian Press

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Crime

Author Salman Rushdie attacked on lecture stage in New York

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CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked and apparently stabbed in the neck Friday by a man who rushed the stage as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and punch or stab him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.

State police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck and was flown to a hospital. His condition wasn’t immediately known. The moderator at the event was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.

The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

Another spectator, Kathleen Jones, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.

A bloodied Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest.

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

Rushdie “has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” she added.

His 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. Often-violent protests against Rushdie erupted around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.

The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack.

A bounty of over $3 million has also been offered for anyone who kills Rushdie.

The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a round-the-clock armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

He has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, saying in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. The Index on Censorship, an organization promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for his killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa for his death still stands.

In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while in hiding.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”

The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. Most people leave the doors to their century-old cottages unlocked at night.

Police said a state trooper was assigned to Rushdie’s lecture.

The Chautauqua center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before. Speakers address a different topic each week. Rushdie and moderator Henry Reese were set to discuss “the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”

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Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Jennifer Peltz in New York City contributed to this report.

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