Erin O'Toole says all Conservative MPs vaccinated or granted exemptions ahead of reopening of House

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole arrives at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative leader Erin O'Toole arrives at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today that all 119 Conservative members of Parliament will be in the House of Commons next week for the opening of a new session — either because they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or because they have received exemptions.

O'Toole made the remarks in French in an interview with Daniel Thibeault on Radio Canada's Les coulisses du pouvoir that will air Sunday.

"All our MPs will be there," he said repeatedly when asked how many of his members remained unvaccinated. O'Toole said it would be inappropriate to talk about the specific health issues of MPs.

O'Toole was asked if that meant all his MPs were vaccinated or had exemptions. "Exactly," he replied.

The Conservative leader said his caucus would follow the rules and he is "satisfied" with the approach taken by his team.

Tories promised to challenge rules

Last month, members of the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), the body that governs administrative policies related to the House, announced that most MPs and anyone else entering the House would need to be fully vaccinated when Parliament returns on Nov. 22.

The policy stated that individuals would be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after they received the recommended doses of a single vaccine or a combination of vaccines approved by Health Canada.

"However, individuals who have a medical contraindication to full vaccination against COVID-19 will have the option of providing proof of a recent negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test result," the BOIE said in a statement.

Conservatives blasted what they called the "secret" move by the BOIE and O'Toole vowed a question of privilege would be raised over the decision, despite the Conservative leader's personal promotion of vaccination.

In recent weeks, CBC News reached out to all 119 Conservative MPs individually on the issue; 81 confirmed they are fully vaccinated, three would not disclose their vaccination status and 35 did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The party wouldn't say how many of its MPs remained unvaccinated, but multiple party sources told CBC News at the time that the number was a "handful" — less than 10.

The NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party have confirmed that all of their MPs are fully vaccinated. The Liberal Party says all its MPs are fully vaccinated, except for one with a medical exemption.

Time to talk about kids getting vaccinated, Tory leader says

O'Toole told Thibeault that he knows which of his MPs are not unvaccinated.

"And that's why I can tell you all our MPs will be there and I encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated, and now we have to talk, without division, about getting kids vaccinated," he said. "There are parents with worries and it is not the time for division."

Also on Friday, Health Canada officially approved Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for children ages five to 11, praising it as more than 90 per cent effective against COVID-19.

The Conservative leader said it was time for "real Parliament" and to do away with a hybrid model that he suggested has allowed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to hide from scrutiny.

MPs will gather in the House Monday for the election of a new Speaker. Unvaccinated MPs or those without valid exemptions would not be able to participate in that vote, as it must be done in-person.

On Tuesday, Gov. Gen. Mary May Simon will read the throne speech to officially kick off the new session of Parliament.

MPs who questioned vaccine policies excluded from shadow cabinet

Last week, O'Toole named a shadow cabinet that noticeably excluded several MPs who publicly questioned vaccine policies.

Newcomer Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, who ran against O'Toole for the party leadership, was not given an opposition critic role after blasting COVID-19 vaccinations for kids.

Saskatchewan MP Rosemarie Falk, who spoke out against so-called "mandatory vaccinations," and veteran Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu, who sparked controversy by comparing COVID-19 to polio, were also left out.

Veteran B.C. MP Mark Strahl, who called vaccine mandates "discriminatory" and "coercive," was also kept off O'Toole's team. Strahl was the Conservative labour critic in the last Parliament.

Gladu is also taking part in a civil liberties "mini-caucus" focused on issues related to vaccines.

"People are asking things about losing their jobs, vaccine mandates. Parents of children [younger] than 11 are concerned about the long term health impacts of these vaccines on their kids," she told CBC News earlier this month. "There are people that are concerned because they haven't taken the vaccine that they can't leave or enter the country."