Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says his party will respect a new ruling requiring all MPs who enter the House of Commons precinct to be fully vaccinated – even though some of his MPs have objected to the policy.
In an interview on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Mr. O’Toole said the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) “and the Speaker have ruled, and we will respect that. Of course, we also think, though, that we have to look at not dividing people on the issue.”
Anthony Rota, the Speaker of the House and chair of the BOIE, which manages Parliament and includes members from different parties, announced the vaccination policy in a statement Tuesday evening. The new requirement applies to MPs, their staff, political-research employees, journalists and others.
Conservative Party Whip Blake Richards sharply criticized the decision this week, saying: “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.”
While Mr. O’Toole said he respects the Speaker’s decision, it remains unclear whether all of his caucus members will comply. He also noted that Conservatives have said a small number of people should be accommodated through the use of rapid tests. He said it is difficult to see people being fired for not being vaccinated and that “if we work smart, and use all the tools we have, we could probably avoid these sorts of confrontations with just not politicizing vaccinations.”
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “it is puzzling to me that there are people out there who think that just because they are members of Parliament they do not need to keep themselves, their loved ones or their constituents safe when the vast majority of Canadians have done the right thing.”
Mr. Trudeau said all parties except for the Conservatives are “unequivocal in terms of our own safety, individually, in terms of the safety of the people who work in the House, in terms of making sure that Canadians are safe when they go into constituency offices to get services from the federal government.”
He said MPs need to be fully vaccinated and it’s on Mr. O’Toole to “explain why he thinks people should not be fully vaccinated if they want to serve as members of Parliament and why.”
In his TVO interview, Mr. O’Toole accused the Prime Minister and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier of stoking division on the issue of vaccination during the campaign and wondered if the election results would have been different if they hadn’t.
But the Conservative Leader, who refused to refer to Mr. Bernier by name during the campaign, said the People’s Party of Canada is not a deterrent to his party’s electoral success. Mr. O’Toole reflected at length in the interview about factors that contributed to the election result, including his analysis of the role played by Mr. Bernier and the PPC.
“There is a portion of his vote that is conservative, or right-of-centre voter, libertarian, absolutely. And I do think, working better to show some of our ideas on effective government, fiscal responsibility, can probably bring some people back,” he said, adding that Mr. Bernier motivated some people to vote largely on the issue of vaccinations.
Mr. Trudeau also responded to criticism Thursday from opposition MPs who said the government’s move to limit House sitting days is to avoid scrutiny, particularly when MPs should be debating pandemic supports.
“This is the longest we will have in terms of weeks of House sitting following an election. I look forward to working with other parties in the House on getting big things done for Canadians,” he said, adding that it is important everyone be vaccinated.
The Globe and Mail reviewed historical data of parliamentary sitting days over the past few decades that found a clear downward trend has continued under the Liberals. So far this year, the House of Commons has sat for 76 days. Twenty more days are scheduled for this year, bringing the total to 96. The House sat for 86 days in 2020 and 75 in 2019. It sat for 122 days in 2018, the last full year the Trudeau government had a majority.
With reports from Menaka Raman-Wilms
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