Spouting misinformation in their false crusade to defend the rights of the unvaccinated, a gaggle of Tory MPs threaten to render the federal Conservative Party unelectable. Erin O’Toole did his best, Monday, to rein them in. The Conservative Leader will need to do a lot more.
Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu belongs to a so-called civil liberties caucus of Conservative MPs and senators – are there 15 of them? 30? – who are advocating on behalf of people resisting COVID-19 vaccinations. When asked on CTV’s Question Period whether she opposed mandatory polio vaccinations for school children, Ms. Gladu replied: “People that got polio, many of them died, and many of them were crippled. And that is not the same frequency of risk that we see with COVID-19.”
In fact, in 1953, the worst year of the polio epidemic in Canada, there were nearly 9,000 cases and about 500 deaths. COVID-19 infected and killed many times that number in its first year. The Conservative MP either seriously misspoke or prefers her own facts.
Mr. O’Toole called Ms. Gladu’s comments “not appropriate at a time we should be answering questions about vaccine hesitancy, not creating new questions.” Ms. Gladu is, however, unlikely to face serious discipline from Mr. O’Toole and the Tory caucus.
Haldimand-Norfolk MP Leslyn Lewis is also likely to get off scot-free, after tweeting: “Never have Canadian children been used as shields for adults. Parents question vaccinating kids 5-12 without long-term data, a low risk of fatality, & cautions echoed around the world, when the treatment neither prevents transmitting or getting the virus.” The very reason Canada hopes to soon begin vaccinating children is to prevent childhood infection and transmission.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has not hesitated to bounce unvaccinated MPPs from the Progressive Conservative caucus. Mr. O’Toole, after much flipping and flopping, finally promised that all MPs who attend the House of Commons will be vaccinated.
He must fear that if he pushes back too hard against the right wing of his caucus, that caucus could split, which may also explain why, more than two weeks after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his cabinet, Mr. O’Toole has still not revealed the shadow front bench.
Some current opposition critics deserve to be severely demoted. Top of the list is industry critic Pierre Poilievre, who has accused Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem of turning the central bank into “an ATM for Trudeau’s insatiable spending appetites.”
Politicizing the Bank of Canada should earn any critic a swift transfer to Tourism or Sport.
It almost seems as though Mr. O’Toole leads two Conservative parties: the one he would like to lead and the one he’s got. Mr. O’Toole would like to lead a Conservative Party focused on critiquing the leftward drift of the Liberals, on the size of the deficit, on supporting the rights of workers, on avoiding confrontations with provinces, on fighting global warming without damaging the economy.
He has some MPs like that – such as newcomers Melissa Lantsman in Thornhill and Adam Chambers in Simcoe North; re-elected MPs Eric Duncan in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, and Raquel Dancho of Kildonan-St. Paul; and veteran Michelle Rempel Garner in Calgary Nose Hill. Others obsess over God, guns, gays (some Tory MPs opposed anti-conversion therapy legislation) and now vaccines.
Those socially conservative MPs should note that, while Mr. O’Toole was apologizing for their behaviour on Monday, Mr. Ford was championing a highway proposal known as the Bradford Bypass. Last week, he raised the minimum wage.
What do the two policies have in common? They are supported by many working suburban voters – the office manager who spends almost as much time commuting in his car as at his desk; the new arrival from Manila working long hours for little pay in a nursing home.
Until the last two weeks of the last federal campaign, many of the suburban voters who decide elections were thinking about voting Conservative. But the Liberals used the Tories’ own words on guns and vaccines to scare them away.
Mr. O’Toole needs to make the Conservative Party his party. He needs to lay down the law. If a few MPs decide to see themselves out as a result, he should be glad to let them go.
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