Andrew MacDougall: If Erin O’Toole can’t get her caucus to the right place on vaccines, she doesn’t deserve to lead the country
Andrew MacDougall is Director of Trafalgar Strategy and former Head of Communications to Prime Minister Stephen Harper
You have to give it to the conservatives. Having lost to Justin Trudeau and his Liberals in the federal elections., now they’re working overtime to make sure the Grits win next by refusing to clear shots.
Now we have been in this pandemic for 20-plus months and seven months in the era of mass vaccination, and the Conservatives still do not say how many of their MPs are vaccinated. The vaccinations given are the best way out of our current prIn reality, this is akin to admitting that you don’t want to drink water after wandering for years in a desert. It is enough to make the neutral observer wonder if you are really in a mess of the head.
This is not to say that there are no reasons to avoid a vaccine. There are valid medical reasons. There are less valid religious reasons (in terms of public health). But unless clearly stated, people will assume more exotic reasons, that is, that some people in the party listen to people who are really ruined on the head about vaccines, claiming they are a strange plot orchestrated by Bill Gates or Big Pharma. More importantly, as long as the policy of the party is to maintain sCAs for vaccines, invite people to guess the number of people who are resistant to vaccines in the caucus. It may only be a handful. On the other hand, it could be dozens. That the party is stubborn in its silence suggests that it is second, not first.
READ: Quebec delays its mandate for vaccines for healthcare workers
For all the back and forth in the conservative halls about why they lost the last election, not enough time has been spent talking about the elephant in the room: confusing vaccine policy. What shade of blue is Erin O’Toole pales in comparison, in terms of a factor in electoral defeat, to the party that is offside at 80 percent of Canadians’ views on vaccines. Canadians wanted to be frank about vaccines and vaccine policy, and the Conservatives danced like the main Travolta. It worked as long as the focus was on Justin Trudeau’s unnecessary ballot call, but once the conversation turned to the COVID bonfires in Alberta and Saskatchewan became a weight around the party’s neck.
The promoters of the Popular Party vote had a lot to do with vaccination policies and fears around government overreach. If you wanna stick two fingers on Billy Boy Gates then Maxime Bernier is your man. All the more reason, then, for conservatives to support vaccines and vaccine mandates before the next election, whenever they come.
You’d think the last thing Erin O’Toole would want to face in the next campaign would be a PPC with a reason for being. Overcoming the pandemic is the surest way to vaccinate Canada against Bernier and his band of unmasked bandits and take the conversation back to the places O’Toole was trying, about jobs, wages and economic opportunity. So it comes now.
Getting there would also give O’Toole a chance to demonstrate leadership. That vaccines work is indisputable (even if we are still not sure how long they confer protection). That they reduce serious illnesses and hospitalizations is equally clear. That side effects are rare and nothing at all compared to the impacts of COVID-19 infection is clear. So is the fact that we have used vaccines for decades and conditioned entry to certain places to have them. If O’Toole can’t get his group to the right place on vaccines, he doesn’t deserve to lead the country.
Doing things like objecting to the “secret” Board of Internal Economics dictating the House of Commons position on vaccine mandates for Parliament, as the Conservatives did this week, is as much about scoring a point as losing it altogether. Yes, it should have been a vote in the plenary session of the House of Commons, but that’s not really the objection here, is it? The full vote will come soon enough and then the issue will be laid out for all to see.
But don’t Canadians with reservations about vaccines deserve a voice in the House of Commons? Sure, but there is no reason why the voice cannot belong to someone who is fully vaccinated. We already know that the vaccine resistant and the doubters are not responding to the government’s pleas; Watching conservatives dodge the conversation gives them additional cover. They probably won’t listen to anyone, but surely it’s better to say you’ve tried, especially when the vast majority of Canadians are watching and wondering where they stand.
Like it or not, the only way out of pandemic hell is maximum vaccination. Unleashing those who continue to resist will only prolong the pain and financial damage. More importantly for supporters, pandering to laggards will not increase the proportion of accessible votes. And with one election looming sooner rather than later, surely it is better to fight the next one without any pandemic restrictions.