TORONTO — Under the threat of expulsion from the party, an Ontario MPP has announced that he will not get the COVID-19 vaccine as required by the Progressive Conservative caucus.
Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls made the announcement on Thursday from Queen’s Park.
“I took the premier at his word that vaccination is a choice and that all Ontarians have a constitutional right to make such a choice,” Nicholls said. “Up until five o’clock today I am still a PC caucus member, and I will remain there until I’m told otherwise.”
Nicholls said that he and his wife chose not to get the shot for “personal reasons.”
Two days before Nicholls’ announcement, Premier Doug Ford’s office confirmed that all members of Ontario’s PC caucus would be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by 5 p.m. Thursday or face expulsion.
Nicholls is one of two PC MPPs in the caucus who remain unvaccinated, CTV News Toronto has learned.
The identity of the other unvaccinated MPP is unknown at this time. A PC government source previously told CTV News Toronto that all other caucus members are fully vaccinated.
Ford has long said that he does not believe that COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory.
Moreover, he has so far resisted calls for a passport or certificate in the province to prove vaccination status.
The new vaccination requirement set out by the Ford government came after a Queen’s Park Briefing reporter reportedly began asking PC caucus members about their vaccination status. A source familiar with the matter says a staffer in the Premier’s Office ordered MPPs not to reply or disclose their status.
An emergency caucus conference call followed on Tuesday morning to address the new vaccination protocol.
Ontario’s vaccination rates, as well as daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, are among the key indicators officials consider when loosening or tightening public health restrictions across the province.
To that end, Ford has encouraged anyone who is currently eligible to receive a vaccine to get the shot in an effort to drive transmission down.
Following a few hiccups in the early stages of the province’s vaccination campaign, doses are more or less readily available throughout Ontario for anyone who wants one.
Ontario is currently in Step 3 of its reopening plan and was expected to lift almost all remaining public health restrictions once 80 per cent of eligible residents had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 75 per cent had two doses.
As of Thursday, Health Minister Christine Elliott says that 81.8 per cent of Ontarians have one dose of a vaccine and 74.2 per cent have two doses.
However, earlier this week, the Ford government announced that despite coming close to the targets laid out to exit Step 3, all plans to further reopen the province would be put on hold indefinitely due to the risk of the Delta variant.
First elected in 2011, Nicholls has served three terms as an MPP with the PC party. He currently serves as the deputy speaker of the House.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Colin D’Mello and CP24’S Chris Herhalt