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We need our political leaders to denounce anti-vaccine nonsense

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: O’Toole responds after Conservative MP sponsors petition questioning safety of COVID-19 vaccine' Coronavirus: O’Toole responds after Conservative MP sponsors petition questioning safety of COVID-19 vaccine
WATCH: (Dec. 3, 2020) When asked if he supported Conservative MP Derek Sloan sponsoring an e-petition which describes the COVID-19 vaccine as "human experimentation" and questions the safety and science behind it, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole pointed to the worry of many Canadians, saying that information will help bring certainty about the federal government's pandemic response and the "efficacy of the vaccine." – Dec 3, 2020

It obviously remains to be seen just how timely Canadians’ access to coronavirus vaccines will be. All the political spin will be a moot point either way once we have firm dates and once we have vaccines rolled out — and sleeves rolled up — across the country.

The opposition Conservatives have raised concerns about whether the government has acted swiftly enough in ensuring that Canada will be near the front of the line. Conservative premiers like Jason Kenney and Doug Ford seem more confident about the prospect of initial doses arriving in early January. The Trudeau government, of course, insists that everything is and will be just fine.

So while it’s too early to judge whether Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s pessimism is misplaced, his concern is at least rooted in a recognition of the importance of vaccination and, more specifically, a recognition that we need widespread vaccination to help bring this pandemic to an end.

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It is obviously in O’Toole’s own political interest that his message not be undermined by anyone in his party and there’s a broader obligation that O’Toole not allow anyone in his party to undermine important public health initiatives, including and especially vaccination.

There was therefore a disappointing lack of leadership on display this week from O’Toole in the face of a disturbing petition sponsored in the House of Commons by troublesome Conservative MP Derek Sloan.

The petition claims that vaccines are “bypassing proper safety protocols” and equates them to “human experimentation.” That’s absurd, of course, and it’s the sort of rhetoric that elected officials should be denouncing and debunking, not embracing.

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For his part, Sloan claims that he sponsors petitions that reflect the concerns his constituents have. However, this petition did not originate in his riding. Moreover, Sloan even claimed that the petition raised “some good points.”

There was no obligation on Sloan or any other MP to sponsor such a petition. I’m sure Sloan would be much less inclined to back a petition denouncing him as an embarrassment and demanding his resignation. That he would choose to give this nonsense a platform is on him, and his constituents can judge their elected representative for themselves.

But there’s also nothing that obligates the leader of the party to remain silent. It’s O’Toole’s decision as to what views he’s prepared to tolerate within his caucus, but if MPs are free to voice their opinions then surely that includes the leader, too.

Yet on this matter, O’Toole chose to bite his tongue. And that silence speaks volumes.

Not only did O’Toole not volunteer a response, he very deliberately avoided answering direct questions on the matter. When asked by reporters about Sloan and the petition, O’Toole simply fell back on his talking points about the government and its vaccination plans. Well, if we were to take this ridiculous petition at face value, then there’d be no faulting the government for foot-dragging when it comes to vaccines that are being irresponsibly rushed for presumably sinister purposes. That alone should give O’Toole a reason to publicly denounce this.

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But imagine for a moment if O’Toole’s concerns and criticisms of the government were being undermined by a Conservative MP who was publicly praising the Liberals on this issue. Does anyone really think that O’Toole would refrain from commenting or refrain from publicly disagreeing with that MP?

It’s not the first time Sloan has embarrassed his party and it probably won’t be the last. It’s hard to see what’s gained by allowing him to remain in caucus. But even if O’Toole isn’t inclined to give Sloan the boot, he can certainly make it clear that he rejects the ideas expressed in the petition and that he would vehemently disagree with any MP who would give oxygen to those sorts of ideas.

The development of vaccines to target this novel coronavirus has been a remarkable story of scientific and medical ingenuity. Obviously, there is still a rigorous review process and high standards for approval, as there should be. We need responsible political leaders to speak to these facts, not to pander to the cult of pseudoscience.

Rob Breakenridge is host of ‘Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge’ on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

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