The Conservatives say they oppose the “secret” move by the House of Common’s governing body to introduce a new mandatory vaccination policy for MPs and object to the idea of more virtual sittings of the chamber.
The Conservatives made the declaration a day after members of the Board of Internal Economy announced that most MPs — and anyone else entering the House of Commons — will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 when Parliament returns on Nov. 22.
“While we encourage everyone who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated, we cannot agree to seven MPs, meeting in secret, deciding which of the 338 MPs, just elected by Canadians, can enter the House of Commons to represent their constituents,” said the Conservative statement.
“Canadians deserve a government that is accountable to its constituents and that’s why under no circumstances will Conservatives support virtual Parliament.”
Asked whether its opposition to a “virtual Parliament” means it also opposes a hybrid Parliament, where some MPs attend virtually while others attend in person, the party said: “We believe Parliament can and should safely return to its normal function.”
After a meeting of the Board of Internal Economy on Tuesday, MPs on the board issued a statement explaining the new mandatory vaccine policy for the House of Commons precinct, which was arrived at behind closed doors.
“This requirement will apply to any person who wishes to enter the House of Commons Precinct, including members and their staff, political research office employees, administration employees, members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, parliamentary business visitors, contractors and consultants,” the statement from the board said.
Conflict with other parties
The statement goes on to say that those with a valid medical reason for avoiding vaccination “will have the option of providing proof of a recent negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test result.”
Parliament will consider an individual fully vaccinated 14 days after their second dose of a vaccine approved by Health Canada.
The mandatory vaccination policy is in addition to preventative measures already in place in Parliament, including mandatory masking and the closure of the grounds to the public.
While the Conservative Party says that it supports vaccination as “most important tool to get us out of this pandemic,” it did not require all of its candidates in the federal election to be fully vaccinated. It also didn’t reveal how many of its candidates were vaccinated.
Both the Liberals and NDP required that their candidates be vaccinated during the election campaign, though they did not extend that requirement to staff members. The Bloc Québécois said during the campaign that all of its candidates were vaccinated. The Green Party told CBC that both its MPs have been fully vaccinated.
The issue is expected to come up again today when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the leaders of the Conservative Party, the NDP and Green Party to discuss how the Commons should resume its work.
The NDP says it’s happy with the mandatory vaccine requirement and that anyone working in the House of Commons precinct should be held to the same standard as the rest of the public service.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said last month that when Parliament returns, it should do so in-person for the fully vaccinated and that any unvaccinated MPs should “get fully vaccinated or … stay home.”
Trudeau spoke with Blanchet about the return to Parliament on Tuesday.
The office of Pablo Rodriguez, the leader of the government in the House, issued a statement Tuesday after the board’s decision saying that hybrid sittings of the House have been shown to work.
“We are supportive of continuing to have hybrid sittings of the House and continuing to make use of technology to ensure that Parliament continues to work well for all Canadians,” the statement said.
“Hybrid sittings allow for flexibility for MPs to adapt to changing circumstances of COVID-19 across the country.”