Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says candidates who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to submit to daily rapid tests, while Ontario Premier Doug Ford is threatening two of his caucus members with expulsion for not getting their shots.
The policy split between the two leading Tory figures comes on the third day of a federal election campaign that has seen mandatory vaccinations become a dividing issue. Both the federal Liberals and the NDP require their candidates to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the Tories do not.
Late Tuesday, Mr. Ford’s office confirmed that two MPPs in his 71-member caucus have not yet been vaccinated. Chief Government Whip Lorne Coe has given the two members until 5 p.m. Thursday to get a shot or provide a legitimate medical exemption – otherwise, they will be removed from caucus.
The Globe and Mail has reached out to the two MPPs for comment. One has not responded, and the other declined to comment.
“Due to the nature of their work, which involves daily interaction with members of the public, including the most vulnerable, it is our expectation that every single PC caucus member and candidate be vaccinated,” said Ivana Yelich, Mr. Ford’s executive director of media relations.
The directive was issued on the same day Ontario announced that it will require schools and employers in high-risk health care settings to have vaccination policies in place by Sept. 7. Unvaccinated workers will have to provide a medical exemption or undergo an educational session on the importance of vaccines, plus weekly antigen testing.
During a campaign stop in Quebec City Wednesday, Mr. O’Toole was asked about the Ford government’s new mandatory vaccination policy for its caucus – specifically, whether he would be adopting a similar requirement.
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“Vaccines are a very important tool for combating COVID-19,” he replied in French. “I encourage all Quebeckers and all Canadians to get vaccinated, including my candidates and MPs. I expect my team to have a solid approach on all health measures across the country, including vaccines. But I will respect personal health decisions. But we need to use daily rapid testing if we have a candidate who is not vaccinated. I will repeat: Vaccines are very important. That’s why I’ve fought for adequate supply over the past year.”
In a COVID-19 campaigning directive sent to Conservative candidates Tuesday, the party said: “Our expectation is that anyone campaigning for our party who isn’t vaccinated will pass a daily rapid test.” Candidates will have to pay for their own tests, the party added.
The issue of mandatory vaccinations has been front and centre during the first week of the campaign. The Liberals last week announced that vaccination would be mandatory for all federal public servants and employees in federally regulated industries, as well as passengers on domestic flights, trains, buses and cruise ships. However, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has not provided key details of the plan, such as what happens in the case of refusal, saying only that there would be “consequences” for public servants.
That statement, along with comments by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh threatening discipline or even termination if a federal employee were to refuse a shot, has drawn criticism from the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the country’s largest federal public service union. PSAC national president Chris Aylward told The Globe Tuesday that using such measures to enforce a vaccine mandate would be “totally unacceptable.”
The Conservatives have also asked the interim clerk of the Privy Council Office, Janice Charette, to launch an investigation into the removal Monday of an online government memo that seemed to contradict the Liberals’ mandatory vaccination policy. In the memo to deputy ministers, posted Friday, Christine Donoghue, the Chief Human Resources Officer of Canada, said the government would consider alternatives “such as testing and screening” for people who refuse to be vaccinated.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters the memo was taken down because it was erroneous and did not reflect government policy, adding that it was removed by the public service. He did not answer when asked whether his office or campaign team had any role in that decision.
The Liberal Leader has been critical of Mr. O’Toole’s stand on mandatory vaccinations. The Conservatives say public servants who refuse to be vaccinated would have to submit to daily rapid tests and unvaccinated travellers would have to undergo rapid tests or present a recent negative PCR test. Mr. Trudeau has said that doesn’t go far enough – his policy would be stricter.
In Quebec City Wednesday, Mr. O’Toole touted his party’s ethics-reform commitments, packaged in an anti-corruption bill that the party said it would pass.
“Canada needs tougher laws to require ethics in government,” Mr. O’Toole said.
Under the proposal, there would be an expansion of monetary penalties in the current Conflict of Interest Act to cover all violations of the act. It would prevent MPs from collecting speaking fees while serving in Parliament because, the platform document says, “Speaking to Canadians is part of the job.”
It would also increase the penalties from the current maximum of $500 to as much as $50,000, with the fine proportionate to the severity of the offence and the offender’s history and personal net worth.
Mr. O’Toole defended targeting an offender’s net worth. “For some people, a $500 fine will not drive better behaviour,” he said.
There would also be reforms to lobbying, including a ban on lobbying by an individual or entity on a matter that is the subject of a criminal proceeding, among other areas.
Mr. O’Toole has framed the need to deal with the overall issue of ethics in response to challenges facing Mr. Trudeau, who has twice been found in breach of conflict of interest laws – in 2017 and 2019.
Most recently, in May, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found that Mr. Trudeau did not breach the Conflict of Interest Act in the WE Charity controversy but that former finance minister Bill Morneau did.
Mr. O’Toole’s stop in Quebec also saw him appeal for support in a province where the election campaign is largely seen as a struggle between the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. At dissolution, the Liberals had 35 seats in the province, the Bloc 32, the Conservatives 10 and the NDP one.
Mr. O’Toole touted the Conservatives’ defence of French as the working language of the province, a commitment to act on Quebec’s priorities and the party’s respect for the province’s jurisdiction, including transferring power in culture and immigration.
“I am going to be a partner, not a paternalist like Mr. Trudeau,” he said.
The party’s platform includes giving Quebec options to ensure that a higher proportion of immigrants settling in Quebec speak French, as well as making federal transfers for social programs free of what it describes, without explanation, as “restrictive conditions.”
There’s also a commitment to neither intervene in nor provide funding to support legal challenges to Bill 21, which bans public-sector workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work.
The Tories would also table legislation modernizing the Official Languages Act within 100 days of taking office.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told reporters Wednesday his party requires vaccination and that as far as he knows, all candidates and staff have received their shots.
The Bloc leader campaigned Wednesday in the riding of Châteauguay—Lacolle, where his party finished a close second to the Liberals in 2019. At a campaign stop, Mr. Blanchet pushed back at suggestions from reporters that the sovereigntist party wasn’t talking much about an independent Quebec lately.
“So far, Quebec is not a country. It will come,” he said. “In the meantime, we have to adapt. We have to promote better ideas. We have to support initiatives from [Quebec’s National Assembly] in order to do what is best for our people. But never, never doubt the fact that there is no [policy] jurisdiction which would not be better managed by a government, which would be our own, and our own alone.”
With a report from Bill Curry in Ottawa
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