The Conservatives say they oppose the "secret" move by the House of Commons' governing body to introduce a new mandatory vaccination policy for MPs and object to the idea of more virtual sittings of the chamber, but Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says the party will abide by the decision.
The Conservatives made the declaration a day after members of the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) 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."
But in an interview with TVOntario's The Agenda on Wednesday, O'Toole said the Conservatives will follow the rules.
"Conservatives, as we always have, will respect all public health guidance, including in our own conduct as members of Parliament," he said to host Steve Paikin. "The BOIE and the speaker have ruled, and we will respect that."
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."
WATCH | Conservatives say vaccine mandate for MPs was decided in secret:
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.
Mandatory vaccine policy
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.
Conservatives call on Liberals to tackle vaccine hesitancy
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke today with the leaders of the Conservative Party, the NDP and Green Party about how the Commons should resume its work.
After Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole talked with Trudeau today, the Conservatives released a statement that did not specifically address the new House of Commons rules but spoke more broadly on the issue of vaccine hesitancy and promised the party would "put forward ideas" to address the problem.
"Mr O'Toole asked the Prime Minister to stop using vaccines as a political wedge tool and to prioritize addressing the issue of vaccine hesitancy in Canada," said the statement.
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.
"I'm in agreement with the decision and I do not understand why the Conservatives oppose it," NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday after his call with Trudeau.
He also warned that the Liberal government "can't take our support for granted" when Parliament returns next month. He said measures such as extending pandemic supports will be among the NDP's top priorities.
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."
Steven Chaplin, former senior legal counsel at the House of Commons, told CBC News today that while the Board of Internal Economy has authority over House administrative issues, it does not have the power to overrule MPs' privileges.
"The privileges belong to all members of the House, collectively," Chaplin said. "They can decide themselves whether or not they want to have a member who is unvaccinated sitting with them, but that has to be a decision of the House itself."