TORONTO — An Ontario MPP who refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine as required by the Progressive Conservative caucus has been expelled from the party, CTV News Toronto has learned.
Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls made an announcement about his vaccination status on Thursday afternoon from Queen’s Park.
Nicholls said that he and his wife chose not to get the shot for “personal reasons.” Nicholls was removed from caucus a little over an hour after the announcement was made, sources tell CTV News Toronto.
Two days before Nicholls’ declaration, 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 MPPs who remain unvaccinated. The other, Scarborough Centre MPP Christina Mitas, was provided with a medical exemption, CTV News Toronto has learned, though the Premier’s Office would not say on what grounds the exemption was granted.
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.
In a statement released following the ouster, Ford said that elected officials “must rightfully be held to a higher standard.”
“MPP Rick Nicholls has failed to provide a legitimate reason for exemption from vaccination. As a consequence, he is no longer a sitting member of the PC caucus and will not be permitted to seek re-election as a PC candidate,” the statement read.
“MPP Christina Mitas will remain in caucus as she has provided a statement of medical exemption signed by a physician and made assurances she will take additional precautions while carrying out her duties as an elected representative,” Ford continued, while once again urging eligible Ontarians to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The new vaccination requirement for caucus members set out by the Ford government came after a Queen’s Park Briefing reporter 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.
The Liberal, NDP and Green caucuses each told QP Briefing that all of their MPPs are fully vaccinated.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Colin D’Mello and CP24’S Chris Herhalt