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Saturday, October 23, 2021

All elected Liberal, NDP MPs will be vaccinated, Conservatives still won’t say

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TORONTO — With just two days until election day, the Conservative Party won’t say whether they will require any candidates elected to be members of Parliament to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before heading to sit in the House of Commons, in contrast to the positions of the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois.

Throughout the campaign the Conservatives have refused to say how many of their candidates have been fully vaccinated, and now they also will not confirm whether they will be required to be vaccinated before taking their seats in Ottawa.

In a statement to CTVNews.ca when asked again, Conservative spokesperson Mathew Clancy offered the same message the party has been stating throughout this campaign, that: “vaccines are safe and effective, and we encourage every Canadian who is able to do so, to get vaccinated.”

Just days before calling the election, Trudeau announced that the federal government would be making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for federal public service workers as well as those in the federally regulated transportation sector. Some ambiguity remains about what would happen to those who refuse to be immunized. Trudeau has suggested there would be consequences, but also said that he would work with union representation.

While MPs wouldn’t fall under these rules, departmental staff would, as would administration staff in the House, Senate, and Library of Parliament. The policy, which is set to take effect in October, would also apply to any commercial air, interprovincial train and cruise ship passengers.

After dodging questions about how a Conservative government would approach vaccine mandates for federal workers and instead criticizing Trudeau for politicizing the issue, the party later stated that if elected the Conservatives would take an “alternative” approach to mandatory vaccines.

Specifically, the Conservatives would require unvaccinated Canadian passengers to present a recent negative test result or pass a rapid test before getting on a bus, train, plane, or ship. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole would also require federal public servants who aren’t vaccinated to pass a daily rapid test. 

He has also vowed to get the country up to 90 per cent fully vaccinated, suggesting a Canada-wide pamphlet to inform folks on the safety and efficacy of vaccines would be part of that strategy.

Asked on Saturday at a stop in Kitchener, Ont. about the decision, O’Toole said that candidates and those campaigning for his party have been following health guidelines.

“We have a rule that everyone that is campaigning for us — candidates, people going door-to-door — have to use vaccines, and if someone is not fully vaccinated, they must use a daily rapid test and follow all of the public health guidance in the provinces they’re in,” O’Toole told reporters.

O’Toole did not directly answer a question about how he plans to find out which of his candidates are vaccinated and which are not in order to follow through on his pledge to appoint a health minister who is fully vaccinated should the Conservatives form a government.

LIBERAL, NDP, BLOC ALL VACCINATED

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau—who has focused much of his campaign on the differing vaccination policies between his party and O’Toole’s—once again called out O’Toole for not saying how many of his nearly 338 candidates have received a full series of authorized COVID-19 vaccines on Saturday morning at an event in Aurora, Ont.

“He’s not worried about protecting those people who have stepped up and done the right thing,” Trudeau told reporters. “He’s worried about protecting anti-vaxxers in his caucus.”

Aurora was one of the first locations where Trudeau encountered anti-vaccination protesters during this election campaign, and where he responded to their chants about “forced vaccination” with an ask to “please get vaccinated.” As the aggression ratcheted up over the last five weeks, that tone changed to calling them “anti-vaxxer mobs.”

Liberal spokesperson Alex Wellstead confirmed that all Liberal candidates are vaccinated, adding in a statement that: “By requiring all Liberal candidates to be vaccinated, we are ensuring that our caucus in the House of Commons leads by example when it comes to finishing the fight against COVID-19.”

As the parties have previously confirmed, all New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois candidates, and by extension any who are elected and Ottawa-bound, are fully vaccinated.

The NDP has proposed that if elected they would work to see the mandatory vaccine policy in place earlier and has suggested that should federal employees refuse to be vaccinated for reasons other than health, there could be disciplinary measures taken.

The Green Party has not responded to CTVNews.ca’s request for comment.

FUTURE OF HYBRID SITTINGS?

After months of ad-hoc emergency meetings in the early months of the pandemic to pass pressing COVID-19 aid and nothing else, all sides eventually agreed on a hybrid sitting format that allowed MPs to virtually vote and participate from their homes or offices and still appear, via screens, inside the chamber where a small number of usually nearby MPs participated in-person.

Introduced before the mass immunization effort allowed all eligible Canadians to roll up their sleeves to receive the additional protection against the novel coronavirus, the hybrid sitting format was intended to be a temporary solution.

The latest agreement allowing these sittings expired when the House of Commons adjourned in June and a new structure for sitting will have to be established once the next Parliament gets underway.

Because of the way rule changes for MPs are generally handled, any future agreements that would allow MPs to continue to participate virtually would likely require the agreement of all parties in the House.

It’s possible that depending on the rate of vaccination inside the chamber, there could be an appetite to see more MPs taking part from Ottawa, though it remains to be seen each party’s comfort level given who else is around them and the rate of new cases in the coming months.

Depending on when the next Parliament begins sitting, there will likely be some public health-advised COVID-19 precautions remaining. The House of Commons recently announced that the Board of Internal Economy—the cross-party committee of MPs that oversees the workings of the House of Commons—has agreed to extend the mask mandate until at least Oct. 29.

This means that MPs, their staff, House employees and members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery need to wear masks while in all common areas of the parliamentary precinct, except for when eating, drinking, or seated at their desk if it’s distanced from others. The mandate does not apply to MPs when they are at their place in the Chamber or when speaking at a press conference.

Committee travel will also remain suspended, any non-essential activities will continue to be halted, and public tours will remain a no-go. 

With files from CTV News’ Sarah Turnbull and Maggie Parkhill 

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