The Conservative Party is opposing a mandatory vaccination policy for the House of Commons that was announced this week by an all-party board of MPs.
While the Liberals, Québécois and NDP have all supported mandatory vaccination for everyone – including MPs – who enter the House precinct, the board’s closed-door decision was announced Tuesday over the objections of the Conservative Party. The House precinct includes the Commons chamber, committee rooms and MPs’ offices.
Conservative Whip Blake Richards, a member of the board, issued a statement Wednesday in response.
“I can’t discuss what happens at an in camera meeting but I will say that we’ve always said that vaccines are the most important tool to get us out of this pandemic,” he said.
“As we said during the election, workplace health and safety can be assured through vaccination or the demonstration of a recent negative rapid test result.
“While we encourage everyone who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated, we cannot agree to seven MPs, meeting in secret, deciding which of the 338 MPs, just elected by Canadians, can enter the House of Commons to represent their constituents.”
The Conservative Party elected 119 MPs in the September federal election and will continue as the Official Opposition in the House. The new policy will apply when the new session of Parliament begins on Nov. 22.
The issue of vaccinations arose in a series of talks that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held with three party leaders to get a sense of their parliamentary priorities.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, on the issue of mandatory vaccinations, said the board made the “right decision” in requiring MPs to be vaccinated. “I don’t understand why the Conservatives are opposed,” he said after his conference call with Mr. Trudeau. “As elected officials, we need to be showing leadership.”
On other issues, Mr. Singh said he urged the Prime Minister to extend expiring pandemic benefits for individuals, to support front-line health care workers, to produce a plan for calming inflation and to deliver “real action” on climate change. He also called on the federal government not to appeal a pair of human-rights-tribunal decisions related to compensation to Indigenous children and their families.
It is not yet clear if the new Parliament will maintain the recent practice of hybrid sittings, in which MPs can participate in debates and committee meetings via video link.
The new vaccination policy was announced Tuesday evening by House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, who chairs the Board of Internal Economy. The board approves policies related to the management of the House of Commons, such as security rules and approving travel and expenses rules.
Elsewhere in Ottawa, the Senate has not yet decided on a staff vaccine policy, and Alison Korn, a spokesperson for the committee that manages internal affairs in the Senate, said that they will be “carefully examining” the approach before announcing a decision.
Rob Walsh, a former chief law clerk of the House of Commons, told The Globe and Mail Wednesday that he was “surprised” by the House board’s announcement. Mr. Walsh said that in his view, the board only has the authority to prevent MPs from accessing the areas around the chamber, such as their Parliament Hill offices.
“I don’t believe anyone but the House can prevent a member from entering the chamber,” he said.
Until such a motion is approved by the House of Commons, Mr. Walsh said MPs should have the right to walk through the precinct on their way to the chamber or a committee meeting. He also said that if the House passes such a motion, it should give unvaccinated MPs an alternative means of participating.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau spoke privately with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole as part of the meetings with opposition leaders.
Mr. O’Toole aimed to keep the focus of the meeting on economic policy, inflation and p supports, such as the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). The Conservatives say the CRB should be ended next month.
The CRB and related programs for sickness and caregiving benefits are paid directly to individuals who are not able to work for reasons related to COVID-19. The Tories have not made a similar request regarding benefits paid to employers, including the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy.
All these programs are scheduled to expire on Oct. 23. Cabinet has the authority to extend them to Nov. 20, but any additional extension would require parliamentary approval.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has said an announcement on the future of these benefits will be made soon.
After his meeting with Mr. Trudeau, Mr. O’Toole’s office issued a written summary of their discussions. The summary said Mr. Trudeau did not answer on the issue of the CRB and on whether the Liberals will hold off using vaccines as a wedge issue. Also, it said the Prime Minister would not commit to recalling Parliament sooner.
A readout from the Prime Minister’s Office said Mr. Trudeau emphasized the need for all MPs to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and that Mr. O’Toole presented the Prime Minister with his party’s views on this topic.
Also, the Prime Minister “reiterated his commitment to collaborating with all parliamentarians to ensure that Canadians and businesses continue to be protected from the COVID-19 virus, and receive the support they need and rely on.”
The Speaker’s statement Tuesday, which was shared with the media through a news release, said individuals are deemed fully vaccinated against COVID-19 14 days after they receive the recommended doses of vaccines. The requirement applies to MPs, their staff, political research office employees, administration employees, journalists and others.
People with medical exemptions will be able to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
With a report from Menaka Raman-Wilms
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.