Once Again The Conservatives Champion Individual Choice over Collective Health and Safety

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This is becoming a tiresome broken record. The O’Toole Conservatives – allegedly the official opposition and hence presumably responsible parliamentarians all — are champing at the bit for parliament to return as soon as possible after the 20 September federal election. Why wait until November, or even October, when there is work to be done, they so virtuously signal?  

On the one hand this is hardly surprising. These are, of course, the very same Conservatives who wanted parliament to continue sitting in person throughout the pandemic, despite all public health directives to the contrary. From the beginning of the pandemic they fought the implementation of a virtual parliament every step of the way, dragging their heels until the eventual technology for a hybrid system was implemented to suit their demands to have at least some MPs present in the House of Commons. And this despite the health concerns that their presence raised for the various house administrators and staff who were required to be there, and who greatly outnumbered the small collection of daredevil MPS who ventured to Ottawa at the height of the pandemic. (Note that most were not even Conservatives, since the rules required the presence of other parties’ MPs as well, whether they wanted to be there or not, and most Conservative MPs could not make the journey from their largely western ridings in any event due to all of the transportation and accommodation constraints in place.) Note also that many Conservative MPs who were present, like several of their Conservative counterparts in the Senate, frequently were seen without masks and some appeared to view physical distancing as a suggestion. 

So now they are at it again. The Conservatives demand parliament return, in full, (no more hybrid sessions for them!) and pronto! But — and here lies the rub — they also insist that they will not be bullied into getting vaccinated. Oh no, not they. The Liberals, the NDP, Greens and the Bloc all made much of the fact their candidates were all vaccinated during the campaign itself, while the Conservatives refused to provide any information at all on the status of theirs. (Draw your own conclusions.) It seems this is a matter of personal choice. Nor should there be any negative consequences for choosing to refuse the vaccine.

Now push has come to shove.  Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe has made it clear he believes no MP who has not been double vaccinated should be allowed on the parliamentary precinct at all. The NDP, Greens and Liberals appear to agree. Moreover we have heard from various parliamentary procedure and legal experts who have explained how this can be achieved quite easily, and in full compliance with rules and procedure. [i]

Erin O’Toole now finds himself in a tough spot. Between now and the scheduled return of parliament on November 26 there is plenty of time for wayward MPs to get their shots. If they don’t, they may find themselves on the outside looking in. Wouldn’t it be amusing if the only people not present in the House of Commons that day are the very ones that called for its early return?

Increasingly this appears to be an ideological quirk of the new right, since both Australia and the UK are having the same sort of debates at the moment, with only the state of Victoria having managed to impose such a sane requirement on parliamentarians. Apparently these Conservatives would rather cater to the small but vitriolic populist minority of antivaxers and conspiracy theorists on whom they depend for support in election campaigns. Of course those would be the very people most likely to contract and succumb to the latest most virulent Delta variant…

[i][i] L. Ryckewaert. “Hill Vaccine Mandates: How it could Be Done, and Where Things Stand”. Hill Times. Oct. 6