OTTAWA – Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says all his MPs will abide by the new rules that require them to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the House of Commons, but will defy those rules at the earliest opportunity.
O’Toole says that the committee that made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for members of Parliament overstepped its authority, and that the decision should have been made by the House of Commons when it resumes its session on November 22. .
But he says that while his party will raise its objection on the Commons floor as soon as it can, Conservative MPs will respect the vaccination mandate with the aim of being in their seats to hold the Liberal government accountable.
The decision was made during a lengthy caucus meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday, with many MPs clearly frustrated that the party remained mired in debate on the issue instead of concentrating on its work as the Official Opposition.
Calgary MP Ron Liepert emphasized that point on his way to the meeting when he expressed concern about some of the new ministers named Tuesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We cannot afford to sit here as an opposition party arguing about whether to get vaccinated or not,” Liepert said.
“We should be doing what the voters ended up sending us here to do, and that is holding this liberal government to account.”
O’Toole has been criticized for months over the issue of COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Trudeau laid the groundwork for a political fight on the issue on the eve of this summer’s election campaign by declaring that he would make vaccinations mandatory for public service, as well as for travelers on planes and trains.
Unlike their rivals, the Conservatives refused to demand that their candidates be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. O’Toole insisted that daily rapid tests were sufficient to protect public safety, a position he held throughout the campaign.
Trudeau went on to impose the mandate for travelers from October 30, when those who wish to fly or take a train will have to show proof of vaccination. That immediately raised a question about what the mandate would mean for unvaccinated members of Parliament who needed to travel to the House of Commons.
Then earlier this month, the committee that sets the House of Commons rules declared that all MPs and their staff must be fully vaccinated to enter the House of Commons when Parliament resumes on November 22, setting the stage for a heated debate among conservatives on how to respond to the ruling.
Following that decision, some Conservative MPs called for the caucus to comply with the ruling, arguing that vaccines have proven to be safe and effective, and that MPs should set an example for the Canadian population at large.
But most Conservative MPs wanted to leave their policy unchanged, and not because they weren’t vaccinated. All but a handful of Conservative MPs are believed to be vaccinated, but many are strongly against the idea that anyone should be forced to disclose their vaccination status, even to an employer.
That is why the party itself stubbornly refuses to confirm how many of its own MPs are fully vaccinated against COVID-19; it is not clear that he knows.
After Wednesday’s caucus, O’Toole said vaccines are still the best way out of the pandemic, and criticized Trudeau for dividing Canadians on the issue, saying he should be ashamed of himself.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION