OTTAWA — Conservative party leadership candidate Roman Baber said Tuesday that if he became prime minister he would sack Canada’s chief public health officer over her management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His promise comes as he trumpeted an endorsement from one of the leaders of this year’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” — a former RCMP officer who broke with the Mounties over COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
Baber was the MPP for the York Center, sitting as an independent in the Ontario legislature after being expelled from the Progressive Conservative caucus for his public criticism of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.
He turned the notoriety of this fight into the donations and signatures required to get on the ballot for the Conservative Party leadership race.
Although Baber has tried to expand his leadership campaign beyond pandemic messaging, he is fighting the clock to garner even more support as the June 3 deadline for candidates to register new party members approaches.
Where candidates stand on COVID-19 vaccination mandates — as well as on the protests that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and border crossings earlier this year — has emerged as a key issue in the leadership race.
Frontrunner Pierre Poilievre has built his campaign narrative around a call for “freedom,” which includes his support for elements of the protest movement and an end to vaccination requirements.
But Poilievre has been outstripped on that front by both Baber and MP Leslyn Lewis, who had raised questions about vaccination mandates and COVID-19-related shutdowns much earlier.
During last week’s leadership debate, Lewis accused Poilievre of only standing with the Ottawa protesters for a photo op, while Baber sparked cheers when he claimed everything the Liberal government said about February’s protests and why they reacted to it the emergency law had to be invoked “turned out to be wrong.”
“It was a really peaceful movement,” argued Baber.
How and why the law was applied is now being investigated by a parliamentary committee, which has heard that no police officer has actually requested the law to be used to suppress protests in Ottawa.
Former RCMP officer-turned-spokesman for the convoy Daniel Bulford was among those arrested when police tried to break up the protests, although he was released without charge.
Bulford once worked in what is known as ‘close protection’ – the security detail around the prime minister. He quit his job with the Mounties for vaccination orders last year before becoming a leading voice in the anti-mandate movement.
Initially, Bulford acted as a security liaison between protesters and local Ottawa police. As tensions rose, he tried to persuade police to refuse orders to arrest protesters and also warned of people trying to infiltrate the convoy movement to make it seem more of a security threat than it was.
Late Monday afternoon, he threw his support for the Conservative leadership behind Baber, citing his opposition to suspensions, mandates and the fact that he hails from a Toronto-area horse farm, which is a political advantage.
“Ultimately he stood up for us so I will stand up for him,” Bulford wrote on social media as he urged people to buy Conservative party membership in support of Baber’s campaign.
Baber welcomed the nod.
“I am honored to have the support of @BulfordDaniel and many leaders in the freedom movement,” he wrote on social media.
Citing the chief of public health, Dr. Theresa Tam, she has been a glowing stick for Conservatives in the past.
In the party’s 2020 leadership race, then-MP Derek Sloan came under fire when he publicly questioned Tam’s loyalty to Canada – she was born in Hong Kong – and her credibility.
Tam’s five-year tenure as Canada’s chief health officer expires this year. It is not yet known whether her appointment will be extended.
Baber is also calling for a judicial inquiry into the public health management of the pandemic.
“I am the only candidate in this Conservative leadership race who is fully committed to reversing the failure of the pandemic response that has hurt so many Canadians,” he wrote in an email to members Tuesday.
Baber and Lewis are now also moving to the next phase of the pandemic response, attacking the World Health Organization for working towards a global agreement that would better guide pandemic management.
Both candidates say it would undermine Canada’s sovereignty.
The contract is only in the negotiation phase, no signings are expected before 2024.
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