Ottawa will require vaccinations in the public service — but MPs may not face the same rule

·3 min read
Parliament will resume before the end of the fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Parliament will resume before the end of the fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Members of Parliament returning to work in the coming weeks could be doing so without a firm COVID-19 vaccination requirement — a rule that's expected to be introduced for hundreds of thousands of federal public servants and workers in federally regulated sectors.

If such a requirement is not introduced, it would mean that politicians deciding on vaccination protocols for much of the Canadian public wouldn't necessarily have to get vaccinated themselves.

But with the House of Commons scheduled to resume at some point this fall, there is already pressure to create a similar rule for returning MPs.

"They get fully vaccinated or they stay home," Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said today.

"[If] the price to be paid for this Parliament to start working fully and rapidly again is to force everybody walking in the building to be fully vaccinated, then let's do that."

The House of Commons has introduced a variety of health and safety measures during the pandemic — such as the masking rule and the suspension of non-essential activities — but the group responsible for devising those rules has not yet decided if vaccines will also be required.

MPs designated as spokespeople for the Board of Internal Economy, the governing body of the House of Commons, have not responded to requests from CBC News about the prospect of a vaccination requirement.

WATCH | Yves-François Blanchet on mandating vaccines at Parliament

It may be possible for MPs to impose a vaccination mandate by a majority vote in the House of Commons. There's little precedent for such an action, however.

Liberal MP Hedy Fry, a doctor, said Parliament has an obligation to set an example.

"We cannot have two sets of rules," Fry told CBC News. "We are the ultimate public servants and I think we have to obey the rules."

The Office of the Prime Minister says its planned vaccine mandate will apply to ministers and staff in their offices, though it cannot decide rules for Parliament as a whole.

Public service mandate a priority for Trudeau

The federal government announced in August that it would require vaccination across the federal public service and for travellers by air, rail and ship within Canada, though that rule is not yet in effect.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that implementing the mandate is at the top of his government's post-election to-do list.

Ottawa says it also expects Crown corporations and employers in federally regulated sectors — such as banking and telecommunications — to require their employees to be vaccinated.

An estimated 1.3 million people work in federally regulated sectors.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The proposed mandate could also cover political staff who work in Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate, since they are generally covered by health and safety protections under the Canada Labour Code.

Details on how the mandate will be applied in the public sector have not yet been announced. Ottawa has said the mandate will go into effect by the end of October.

Most MPs already fully 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 all of its candidates have been vaccinated, which prevented the need for a party-wide mandate.

"Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do and elected leaders have a responsibility to set a good example by following public health advice," said NDP MP Peter Julian in a statement.

The Conservatives and Greens, meanwhile, only recommended that their candidates be vaccinated during the election campaign.

The Conservatives did not say if they would support a vaccine mandate for MPs, but a party spokesperson indicated that its members would follow whatever health and safety directives are created.

"Vaccines are safe and effective. They are the most important tool in combating COVID-19. Conservatives will continue to respect all public health guidelines," wrote Chelsea Tucker, the Conservatives' director of communications.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said during the election campaign that he opposed making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for public servants and travellers. He said that alternative measures, such as rapid tests, could be used for unvaccinated workers and travellers.

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