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Erin O'Toole, trying to please his base, came out against vaccine mandates, saying that, while his party urges Canadians to get their shots, there should be no consequences for not doing so. But now his own MPs are refusing to disclose their vaccination statuses.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Tempest, meet tea pot. This is not something Canadians should have to worry about right now.

We are talking about Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole’s refusal to support a vaccine mandate for MPs who want to return to Parliament next month. And we are talking about the fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to blame for this being an issue at all, having used vaccine mandates as a wedge during the recent election.

Had either man acted in the best interests of Canadians over the past two months and put partisanship aside, no one in Ottawa would be talking about this today.

But while Canadians are faced with getting vaccinated as a condition of employment in the public and private sectors, and parents are waiting to start inoculating young children, the government and the Official Opposition would rather conspire to create confusion about vaccines than send a unified message about their importance.

Do not pretend for a minute that Mr. Trudeau is blameless in this. His government dithered on vaccine mandates all year. In January, he called them “extreme measures that could have real divisive impacts on community and country.” In March, he said they were “fraught with challenges.”

And then in August, two days before calling a snap election, Mr. Trudeau said that, if returned to office, he would bring in mandatory vaccine mandates for federal civil servants, as well as for people travelling by plane or train. He warned that there would be “consequences” for those who refused to get vaccinated.

Mr. Trudeau could have brought in these suddenly vital mandates earlier, but he delayed in order to weaponize the issue and its “divisive impacts.”

And Mr. O’Toole bit! Trying to please his base, he came out against vaccine mandates, saying that, while his party urges Canadians to get their shots, there should be no consequences for not doing so, and unvaccinated federal employees should be allowed to work if they are regularly tested for COVID-19.

He is now stuck with that position, after the Board of Internal Economy, an all-party body that sets policies related to the management of the House of Commons, voted this week to oblige MPs, staff, journalists and anyone else entering the Parliament buildings to be fully vaccinated when Parliament tardily returns on Nov. 22.

Mr. O’Toole says MPs should have the alternative of providing a recent negative COVID-19 test. What he won’t say is whether this is a matter of principle, or simply because some members of his caucus are refusing to be vaccinated and he wants to appease them.

And what he won’t admit is that he has painted himself into a corner.

The Conservatives’ objection raises the important question of whether the Board of Internal Economy has the power to prevent a duly elected MP from entering the chamber of the House of Commons, an extreme measure.

But if, as some suggest, only a vote in the House can ban a member from the chamber, then the Conservatives would certainly lose such a vote, thanks to the Liberals and their allies on this issue in the NDP and the Bloc Québécois. In any case, a full debate and a vote in the House – revealing either internal Conservative division or a monolithic opposition – is the last thing Mr. O’Toole wants.

And if the House decides to continue with a hybrid model, in which MPs can work from home and vote via videoconferencing, the Conservatives face the prospect of their members fiddling with their mute buttons, while the other parties are hard at work in Ottawa.

There is also the puzzle of why the Conservatives are still stuck on this issue. Their MPs will need to show proof of vaccination to eat in a restaurant in Ottawa, and to travel to and from their ridings by train or plane.

But most of all, there is the incomprehensible fact that the Conservative Party is arguing that its MPs should be exempt from an obligation imposed on Canadians by various governments and many private companies.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trudeau gets to play innocent. He muddied the waters about the importance of vaccine mandates by wasting precious time before bringing them in, then politicizing the issue during the election.

It must bring him great pleasure to see the Official Opposition continuing his work.

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