Ontario Premier Doug Ford is trying to “deflect” criticism of his response to the COVID-19 pandemic by pointing fingers at the federal government’s handling of the country’s borders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
Trudeau made the comments in response to questions about his relationship with Ford during a virtual appearance at a seminar held by Ryerson University.
Ford has repeatedly said Trudeau’s government hasn’t done enough to keep COVID-19 from coming into Canada via travel from abroad and that the third wave of the pandemic is largely due to “porous borders.”
The prime minister said Ford is in a tough political situation amid the pandemic and that deflecting blame is an easy out.
“I know that the pressure is mounting on Premier Ford, and it is always an easy thing to try and deflect and point fingers,” Trudeau told the seminar held by Ryerson’s Democracy Forum, which involved both students and faculty and was moderated by Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn.
“I’m not going to pick a fight with him at this point. I don’t think anyone wants to see people fighting during COVID,” Trudeau said.
“They want to see us focused on getting through it.”
WATCH: Ontario premier slammed PM on borders at May news conference:
Ford has demanded Ottawa reduce the number of people allowed to enter Ontario, including international students.
Trudeau noted that Ontario has been allowed to let in more than 30,000 international students over the past number of months at Ford’s request.
‘No action’ on border concerns, Ford’s office says
“Doug, if you want to suspend international students, just tell me. Send us an official note and we’ll do that. If you want us to suspend international travellers, if you want us to do any more, we will do that. Just tell me what you want to do,” Trudeau said.
But the premier’s office said the province’s requests are “well documented” in the multiple letters that were sent to the federal government, including another letter sent Friday. Ford has previously said four letters to the prime minister have all gone without a formal response.
“To date, there has been no action on any of these requests. It is the federal government’s jurisdiction and responsibility to fix this national problem. We will continue to call on them to close the loopholes at our land and air borders,” Ford’s press secretary, Alexandra Adamo, said Friday in an emailed statement.
Trudeau said Ford has not followed up on the request to suspend international students, a conversation he said he had with the premier some four weeks ago.
Ontario looked for ‘distractions and diversions’: LeBlanc
The federal minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs also criticized Ford’s approach to the border, saying Ontario has “chosen to look for distractions and diversions and point the finger,” while the Liberal government has “tried to avoid the partisan push and pull of these conversations.”
“Some provinces in fact have pushed us to relax the border measures quickly and other provinces take out silly negative attack ads telling us we need to strengthen the border,” Dominic LeBlanc told host Chris Hall in an interview that aired Saturday on CBC’s The House.
LeBlanc said the federal government remained committed to working collaboratively with provinces to protect Canadians.
“The vast majority of provinces, most of the time, focus on that as well. So, there have been a lot more successes than there have been challenges”