Skip to main content
opinion

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told TVO’s Steve Paikin that his party would respect the Board of Internal Economy’s decision for MPs entering the House of Commons.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservative Party of Canada is in danger of becoming the stupid party.

Many Conservative MPs refuse to declare whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Mark Strahl of Chilliwack-Hope in British Columbia, tweeted that vaccine mandates are “discriminatory, coercive and must be opposed.” There may be some Conservative MPs who have not been vaccinated at all.

The Board of Internal Economy, chaired by House Speaker Anthony Rota, has decreed that everyone entering the House of Commons precinct must be double vaccinated. So how are those MPs who refuse to declare their status going to enter the House?

Although there is some question as to whether the board has the power to infringe on the parliamentary privilege of MPs, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told TVO’s Steve Paikin that his party would respect the board’s decision: “Conservatives, as we always have, will respect all public-health guidance, including in our own conduct as members of Parliament.”

That leaves Conservative MPs unwilling or unable to show proof of vaccination with a choice: swallow their principles or risk being outside the Conservative caucus while they fight for the right to sit as MPs.

Bobby Jindal was governor of Louisiana in 2013 when he warned fellow Republicans: “We must stop being the stupid party.” They didn’t listen.

The Conservative Party of Canada is not even remotely close to the level of paranoia exhibited by much of the Republican Party in the United States, though Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party contains a whiff of it. But to be defending the rights of vaccine resisters, when it is so abundantly clear that we will only overcome the restrictions imposed by this pandemic by getting as close to universal vaccination as possible, is politically stupid.

It’s no secret that some members of the Tory caucus wonder how a party once led by Stephen Harper became so pro-union, as it has under Mr. O’Toole, how the party that trumpeted the oil-and-gas sector now supports a carbon price. Some Western MPs wonder why their Ontario-based leader pays so little attention to the priorities of voters in Prairie provinces, and instead chases after suburban Toronto and Vancouver voters, even though they have rejected the party now in three consecutive elections.

Conservatives feeling skeptical of or alienated by Mr. O’Toole should look at what Doug Ford has been doing in recent days. His Progressive Conservative government has introduced a suite of proposed legislation to protect temporary foreign workers and make it easier for immigrants to work in their chosen fields. Party officials say other measures to protect immigrants and vulnerable workers are on the way.

Mr. Ford stirred controversy when he said that immigrants to Ontario should “work your tail off. If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, it’s not going to happen. Go somewhere else.”

Critics portrayed the remark as anti-immigrant. But there is what Doug Ford says and then there is what Doug Ford does. Voters appear to care more about the latter.

In the most recent Ontario election, the PCs won the vast majority of suburban ridings with large numbers of immigrant voters, as well as most rural ridings. Three and a half years later, they remain ahead in the polls. This is the formula for a successful conservative governing coalition. Mr. O’Toole is trying to duplicate it.

If a federal election comes in two or three years, the Conservatives could be very well positioned. The pandemic, Lord willing, should be behind us. But the economic consequences – staggering levels of debt, higher interest rates and increasing economic insecurity – could be very much front of mind. When elections are about which party can best manage the economy, Conservatives usually win.

The Liberals already appear listless, taking a month to form a cabinet and two months to convene Parliament. There is little new on the agenda and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might choose to leave before the next vote. By then, Mr. O’Toole will be a more experienced and better-known leader.

But the Conservatives must avoid looking stupid. And there may be nothing in politics more stupid than defending the right of an unvaccinated member of Parliament to show up for work in the House of Commons.

No political party claiming the right to form government should permit such a thing.

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.