Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says his caucus will respect and abide by a requirement that members of Parliament be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a medical exemption to take their seat in the House of Commons.
However, he said at the earliest opportunity a question of privilege will be raised in the House to challenge the “improper conduct and precedent” set by the board of internal economy, which established the vaccine mandate.
O’Toole made the remarks Wednesday after a caucus meeting to discuss the Tories’ position on mandatory vaccination and what it means for unvaccinated members.
The board of internal economy, an all-party committee that governs how the Commons operates, decided last week to make vaccines mandatory for everyone entering the House precinct who doesn’t have a medical exemption.
The decision put O’Toole in a challenging spot as he has refused to disclose how many of his 118 members are fully vaccinated while he also opposes any return to a hybrid Parliament.
O’Toole said only the House of Commons itself — not the board — can determine its composition or conduct.
“Before the Speaker or House rules, and after they rule, the entire Conservative caucus will respect and abide by all the rules and all health guidance,” he told a news conference.
The Conservative leader said he has always encouraged every Canadian to get vaccinated and there never should have been an election during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Justin Trudeau should frankly be ashamed of himself for politicizing vaccines and dividing Canadians at a time we need to come together.”
O’Toole continued to say he’s not in favour of a hybrid Parliament, where MPs are able to participate virtually in proceedings, and would not say whether his entire caucus is vaccinated. He did say that every Conservative member in the House of Commons will be vaccinated.
His own caucus members are split on the issue and what Conservatives should do next.
Before entering the caucus meeting, Alberta MP Ron Liepert said he has no problem telling people he’s double vaccinated and believes the issue has become a distraction.
“We don’t have the luxury of sitting here as an opposition party arguing about whether you should be vaccinated or not,” he said.
“We should be doing what constituents ended up sending us here to do, and that’s to hold this Liberal government to account.”
British Columbia MP Mark Strahl said before the meeting that Conservatives must be clear like they were during the election campaign when they opposed vaccine mandates and said those who are unvaccinated should have the option to take rapid tests.
Also speaking before the meeting, Alberta MP Glen Motz said he doesn’t think it should be up to the party leader to disclose personal health information.
An analysis by The Canadian Press shows at least 80 Conservative MPs report being vaccinated against COVID-19, with two saying they can’t because of medical reasons.
Among the Conservatives who believe in keeping their vaccination status private is newly elected Ontario representative and former leadership contender Leslyn Lewis.
Lewis has been an outspoken critic of vaccine mandates and last week also posted on social media about vaccinating children against COVID-19.
She said parents question doing so partly because the shots don’t guarantee against transmission of the virus.
Public health experts say there is overwhelming evidence the immunizations prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death.
“The media and the power structure expect me to sit in the back of the bus. I won’t!” tweeted Lewis, who is Black, after her message about vaccinating kids against COVID-19.
“They will try to paint me as a reckless lunatic in order to lynch me into silence. I will always tell Canadians the truth, (and) no bully or threats will succeed against us!”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said earlier Wednesday that the Tory approach to mandatory vaccines in Parliament was “selfish” and “elitist.”
“I think the debate just shows how the Official Opposition — the Conservatives — are just talking about their own interests rather than what is happening in people’s daily lives.”
— With files from Marie Woolf