At a news conference on Monday as Parliament resumed, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh complained that in a time of pandemic, floods in B.C. and high costs of living, all Canadians hear from the Conservatives are the party’s demands for “special treatment” to avoid vaccination.
“They should be embarrassed,” Mr. Singh said.
But the thing is, the Conservatives already are embarrassed. At least, many Conservatives are. This “are-you-vaccinated” stuff has made some believe the party sympathizes with vaccine hesitancy. Erin O’Toole, the party’s leader, has been embarrassed over and over.
And certainly, Mr. O’Toole and most of his caucus of MPs would very much like the Canadian public to hear other things about the Conservative Party besides speculation about MPs’ vaccination status. But the party just can’t seem to let go. It just can’t seem to tell the world that all its MPs are vaccinated – or conversely, that X number remain unvaccinated, with an explanation.
So it was no surprise that Mr. Singh and the Liberal ministers came back to Parliament hoping to stir up that pot. Yet Mr. O’Toole’s party still didn’t have a simple answer.
The opening of a minority Parliament is when opposition parties typically make demands on a weak government. Not this time. It looked easy for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. It was simple to go after the Tories on vaccines. Again.
Mr. O’Toole had promised last week that all of his MPs would be in the Commons, and would follow rules that dictate members of Parliament must be fully vaccinated unless they have medical exemptions.
One fully vaccinated Conservative, Beauce MP Richard Lehoux, had tested positive for COVID-19, so he wasn’t in the House of Commons on Monday. Another, British Columbia MP Mark Strahl, said he didn’t want to leave constituents whose lives had been disrupted by flooding. The party insisted other absences (MPs Arnold Viersen and Robert Kitchen were also not there) had nothing to do with COVID-19.
But even before the Commons met, Liberal House Leader Mark Holland had suggested Conservative MPs might be falsely claiming medical exemptions from vaccination.
Mr. Holland said it would be statistically “improbable” for more than one of the Conservatives’ 119 MPs to be able to claim a medical exemption – and that he wanted the rules to be tightened.
He pointed out that the odds that someone fits the criteria for a valid medical exemption are tiny. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, placed the likelihood at between one in 20,000 and one in 100,000.
“Hold on a second here,” Mr. Holland said. “The math doesn’t add up. And this is people’s health.”
The Liberal House Leader went on to suggest a “multitude” of Conservative MPs had claimed medical exemptions, while at the same time admitting he didn’t know how many of them had done so.
That’s a glaring contradiction, of course. And when it was pointed out, Mr. Holland happily pointed out that Mr. O’Toole won’t say how many of his MPs are unvaccinated. And the Conservatives didn’t have an answer.
The party hasn’t said how many of its MPs have claimed medical exemptions. The Conservatives’ deputy house leader, Michael Barrett, said he doesn’t know.
So after weeks of getting pummelled over the vaccination of MPs, Mr. O’Toole came back to the Commons without the kind of clear answer that ordinary Canadians have to provide to get into restaurants.
That helped Mr. Trudeau settle into an undemanding return.
There was not a feeling of threat to the Prime Minister. After an election campaign where all opposition leaders ran against an unnecessary election, they can’t start threatening to topple the government now.
Mr. Singh’s press conference didn’t include a list of demands. He said he won’t vote for one particular government bill, to extend pandemic benefits for hard-hit sectors of the economy, if it includes provisions to follow through on the Liberals’ plan to end the benefits for others.
But Mr. Singh also said the Liberals can look to the Bloc Québécois or Conservatives for support on that. And the truth is, they can probably get it.
Mr. Trudeau, a third-term PM with a minority government, has a choice of potential partners to support Liberal legislation and a Conservative Party that can’t let go of its own problems. The return of Parliament looked pretty comfortable for his Liberals.
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