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WHITBY, ONT. – Controversies between candidates over vaccines and Islamophobia marked Erin O’Toole’s campaign on Saturday as the Conservative leader delivered his address to residents of the Greater Toronto Area, an area rich in votes crucial for the federal election results of September 20.

The GTA spans over 50 ridings, the vast majority of which are Liberal-owned, including the 25 seats in Toronto proper.

But O’Toole has his sights set on voters in the suburbs and ex-urbanites as he aims to increase the Tory vote share across the region.

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

Amid the crash of commuter trains at a regional transit station in Whitby, Ont., O’Toole highlighted housing affordability, rapid transit projects, tackling gang violence and l Improving health care among the top local and campaign priorities.

But the field did not go without a hitch.

When the Conservatives kicked off their final tour of the GTA in Mississauga, Ont., On Friday, the Conservative Party confirmed it had dumped Beaches-East York candidate Lisa Robinson after outgoing Liberal MP from the riding, Nate Erskine-Smith, highlighted the Islamophobic tweets from 2017.

A message said that Muslim residents should “go home if our Canadian heritage offends you so much.”

Robinson denied that the Twitter account, titled “Ward 1 Councilor Candidate,” was his.

“The information in Mr. Erskine-Smith’s social media post was generated by a fake social media account that I reported to the police in 2018. I also signed a certificate 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 in my campaign.

Earlier this week, a Conservative candidate in Nova Scotia apologized for social media posts that weighed on Sharia law and supported the burqa ban worn by some Muslim women.

“In the past, I have shared posts on social media without thinking about how those posts might hurt or offend others,” Central Nova candidate Steven Cotter said in a statement provided by the party.

“I have deleted these messages and apologize wholeheartedly to those I have offended.”

When asked by the Canadian Press on Saturday why Cotter remains a candidate when Robinson is not, O’Toole replied: “We are running a positive campaign based on bringing the country closer together and the recovery of the country from a economic point of view. And I want people on my team to share that. “

Cotter is running in a riding won in the past by prominent Tories Peter MacKay and Brian Mulroney, and currently held by Liberal Sean Fraser.

O’Toole also appeared to give tacit approval to Conservative candidates who are not fully vaccinated to campaign in retirement homes, provided they follow public health measures.

The question arose after Conservative Peterborough-Kawartha candidate Michelle Ferreri posted photos of herself on social media during a canvassing at a retirement home when she had received only ‘a single photo.

“We will follow all measures, including vaccines, daily rapid tests, masking and social distancing, to keep people safe. It is not just an expectation, it is a commitment that all members of our team must ensure the safety of people during a pandemic election which Mr. Trudeau called, ”said O’Toole.

The Saturday morning event in a GO Transit parking lot marked the Conservative leader’s second visit to Whitby at Liberal hands in two days and took place just before he flew to British Columbia to make his case closure to voters on the west coast.

O’Toole’s transit platform is committed to “investing immediately in projects” that reduce commute times and create jobs, but does not affect any specific funding amount.

When asked on Saturday if he would commit at least $ 5 billion to public transit, O’Toole declined to give details, acknowledging that the platform is not providing any new funding.

“Much of the money is allocated under the framework over the next decade, but unless you get a government that can actually deliver, the projects will not get done.

“I’m going to build things. I’m going to put shovels in the ground, I’m going to get things done,” he said, accusing Trudeau of not having supported “ambition” with “achievement.”

The Conservatives say they will prioritize the construction of four rapid transit projects in the GTA: the Ontario line, which would include a section under Queen Street; an extension of the Yonge subway line reaching Markham and Richmond Hill; the controversial three-stop Scarborough subway extension; and an addition to the Eglington light rail line to western Toronto and neighboring Mississauga.

O’Toole has also focused on the housing crisis, again announcing a series of measures to cool the sizzling local market and make homeownership within reach of more Canadians. The plan, which folds into a thread of accessibility he has woven throughout the campaign, includes the construction of one million homes in three years and the removal of obstacles to foreign investors.

Likewise, the Liberals have pledged to build 1.4 million homes over four years and prevent foreign nationals from buying two, as well as curb the practice of “flipping” properties.

“Far too many people, especially young people, are excluded from the housing market,” O’Toole said.

“Too many people are already grappling with mortgage and auto payments, buying gasoline and groceries, while Justin Trudeau increases the cost of everything with his out of control spending, borrowing and debt,” a- he declared.

Home prices have continued to rise this year – even in suburban corners of the GTA – as remote working persists and business closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have helped people save money. money 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 highlight his roots in the region, noting that he grew up in Bowmanville, Ont., When his father worked at a GM plant near Oshawa before becoming a Conservative lawmaker in the provincial legislature during 19 years old.

“I had a 905 phone number growing up. And I still have it,” he said, adding he’s been familiar with the daily commute in the suburbs since his time as a Bay Street lawyer.

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

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