Question: does the Conservative Party of Canada have a death wish? I don’t mean literally, though in some of the harder cases one sometimes wonders. But the party’s stance on vaccine mandates is so muddled, so self-defeating, it has to be asked.
No one knows how many members of the Conservative caucus have yet to be vaccinated, or how many, though they have been vaccinated themselves, object nevertheless to vaccines being mandated. What is certain is that they are a minority of the House of Commons. One way or another, then, members of Parliament will be required to get vaccinated as a condition of entry – if not by last week’s vote of the Board of Internal Economy, then by a vote of the whole House. The Tories cannot stop it. All they can do is make themselves look foolish and their leader weak.
Well, they can do one thing more: they can disqualify themselves from participating in the business of Parliament. For the position of the Conservative Party – the position its leader has been forced to adopt on alternate Wednesdays – is not only that MPs should not be required to vaccinate before attending debates in the House, but that they should not be allowed to attend them virtually: the party has said it will not support an extension of the last Parliament’s hybrid sittings. Dissenting MPs will therefore not even be able to register their dissent.
Of course, sometimes you have to take a stand on a point of principle, even in a losing cause. But it helps if the principle for which you propose to sacrifice your party, your career and your reputation makes a lick of sense. That is not the case here.
Some issues are complicated. Some are simple. And some are both complicated and simple. They require us to distinguish between the two: between what is interesting but extraneous and what is truly at the heart of the matter.
So: yes, the Liberals are using vaccine mandates as a wedge issue. Yes, the Prime Minister publicly opposed vaccine mandates until shortly before he announced them. Yes, you could probably protect MPs’ health just as well by requiring them to get tested daily. Yes, the risk of MPs spreading the virus, given that almost all of them have been vaccinated, is slight.
All of these are interesting, even infuriating. But none of them alters the simple fact that vaccines work; that they sharply reduce your chances not only of getting infected yourself but – the statistics are clear on this – of infecting others; that once enough of the population has been vaccinated even the unvaccinated benefit, so far as the virus is left with too few potential hosts to replicate itself; that as such it is in the public interest to get to that threshold as quickly as possible; and that MPs have a duty not only to play their part in this, but more important, to set an example for the rest of society.
That means all MPs. The point is not to create an airtight seal around the Commons. It is not actually necessary that everybody be vaccinated; only that most people are. But we will not succeed in getting most people vaccinated unless we insist, with the rarest exceptions, that everybody is. That’s the point of vaccine mandates. They’re not really mandates – you can refuse to accept the conditions if you are prepared to accept the consequences – so much as incentives. If you want to gather with others in confined spaces, you must get vaccinated: partly so you will not pass the virus on to them, but mostly so you will not pass it on to anyone else.
Against this is … what? The imposition on liberty is trivial. The threat to health is – again, the statistics are clear on this – infinitesimal. The notion that there is still some serious health risk associated with a vaccine with which nearly four billion people worldwide have already been injected is so nonsensical it does not merit a response.
Yet that is what a significant section of the conservative movement has persuaded itself of. It goes by the name of skepticism but in fact it is the rankest credulousness – for it asks its followers to believe that all of the world’s scientists and doctors have somehow got it wrong, or are lying to you; that the vaccines the authorities have approved are more dangerous than the quack remedies found on the internet; that a vaccine that has saved countless lives, as other vaccines against other diseases have done before it, is to be compared to Nazi experiments in eugenics.
This – this! – is the hill that today’s populists and libertarians have chosen to die on. Not literally, but…
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