OTTAWA — All federal parties except the Conservatives say they believe Members of Parliament should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering the House of Commons when it resumes in the fall.
They are split, however, on whether Parliament should be allowed to function under any kind of virtual hybrid model as was the case throughout the pandemic and leading up to last month’s election call.
It's an issue parliamentarians will have to decide on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to name his new cabinet next month after saying Parliament would be recalled sometime before Dec. 21.
During the election campaign, which saw him re-elected for a third time with a slightly larger Liberal minority, Trudeau made it a rule that all Liberal candidates without a medical exemption must be double-vaccinated against COVID-19. The federal NDP and Bloc Québécois required the same.
"With the return of Parliament this fall, this will be a relevant issue," said Simon Ross, press secretary for Liberal Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez.
"We believe MPs who choose to set foot on the floor of the House of Commons and committee rooms should be fully vaccinated, unless there is a valid medical exemption. This will be a key part of future discussions on the return of Parliament. It’s a matter of safety for all MPs, their communities and for all staff who work at the House of Commons.”
The Conservatives saw 119 MPs, including incumbents and new candidates, elected on Sept. 20, after the party spent the race dogged by questions about its opposition to making vaccines mandatory as a tool to defeat COVID-19 because it believes in the rights individuals have to exercise their own health choices.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole refused to say on the campaign trail whether he knew how many of those running for the Tories had been fully vaccinated, saying he told campaign teams that those who are not immunized against COVID-19 should take daily rapid tests.
"If Mr. Trudeau believes it was safe enough to have an election during the fourth wave of the pandemic, it’s safe enough for the House of Commons to resume in-person sittings," said O'Toole's director of communications Chelsea Tucker.
"Canadians deserve a government that is accountable to its constituents and that’s why under no circumstances will Conservatives support virtual Parliament.”
It's unclear how many members of the Conservative caucus are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and how many may not be. They will convene next week for their first in-person caucus meeting since the election, where they will have to decide whether they want to review O'Toole's leadership following its loss.
MPs will be expected to follow public health guidelines, like keeping their distance, but it's not yet known whether those elected who may be unvaccinated are expected to undergo daily testing.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Wednesday he wants to see Parliament resume quickly with MPs having to be fully vaccinated in order to be there in person because now vaccines against the novel coronavirus are more widely available.
"They get fully vaccinated or they stay home," Blanchet said of Conservative MPs who might not have had their shots.
"Parliament should not come back under any kind of hybrid formation … now we know that we can go on with the way this building is supposed to work, and we should not refrain from doing so because a few persons don't believe that the vaccine works. This belongs to another century."
NDP MP Peter Julian said in a statement that because Canada is battling a fourth wave of the virus, the party wants to talk to others about continuing some of the hybrid practices when Parliament resumes.
"All of our NDP MPs are vaccinated and we’ve been very clear that federal government employees must be vaccinated too. Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do and elected leaders have a responsibility to set a good example by following public health advice," Julian said.
The call for MPs to be vaccinated comes as Trudeau works on bringing in a mandate requiring the federal civil service, along with those working in its federally regulated industries, to be fully vaccinated.
His government has promised to make it a rule by the end of October that travellers flying or taking a train in Canada have to be immunized in order to board.
Many provinces have already introduced a vaccine passport system requiring consumers to provide proof of immunization to access non-essential businesses like restaurants and sports and entertainment venues.
"For the safety of House of Commons staff, translators, pages, security, other MPs and their staff, all parliamentarians should show proof that they are fully vaccinated in order to take their seats in the House," tweeted former Liberal cabinet minister Catherine McKenna, who didn't seek re-election, but served for six years in government.
As of Friday, Health Canada reported that around 79 per cent of people 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, with about 85 per cent receiving at least one dose.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press