OTTAWA – Add another workplace to the list where people need to be fully immunized to show up in person: Parliament Hill.
MPs ruled on Tuesday that they and their staff must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to work in what is known as the House of Commons compound, the complex of buildings that make up the headquarters of the federal government in downtown Ottawa.
The move comes after the issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations became a partisan flashpoint during the recent federal election campaign.
But that does not entirely end the debate, especially for the federal Conservatives.
During the campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aggressively pointed out that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole opposes mandatory vaccination policies.
He blamed O’Toole’s inability to fully vaccinate his own team, which meant he was ill-equipped to pull the country out of the pandemic.
For his part, O’Toole stressed that he supports COVID-19 vaccinations and believes people should get them, but said the government should neither force them nor force Canadians to disclose their private health information. . Frequent COVID-19 testing for the unvaccinated should be offered as a compromise, O’Toole said during the campaign.
While the Conservatives believed their position was favorable to public opinion at the start of the campaign, this quickly became a problem as the ravages of the fourth wave of the pandemic and the implementation of mandatory vaccination policies in countries provinces like Ontario and Alberta – both led by conservatives – made the national party look out of step.
The newly re-elected Liberal government has acted quickly to make vaccinations mandatory for the federal public service, as well as for those on planes and trains, policies that will take effect in the coming weeks.
These policies in turn have led to the question of what MPs need to demand.
Finding the answer fell to the Board of Internal Economy, which is made up of members from all parties; they traditionally check their partisan allegiances at the door to set the rules and guidelines for the functioning of the House of Commons.
In a statement released Tuesday evening, House Speaker Anthony Rota said the mandatory vaccination policy would go into effect on November 22, the day Parliament resumed.
Only those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will be able to provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
“Details regarding the implementation of the board’s decision are being worked out and will be released in due course,” Rota said in the statement.
The policy will also apply to the administration of the House of Commons, members of the parliamentary press gallery, contractors and any other person on official business on the Hill, which will remain closed to the public at least until next year, according to the statement.
A spokesperson for Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez said the government welcomed the decision on compulsory vaccination.
“We have long supported a responsible approach to immunization in parliamentary precincts,” said Mark Kennedy in an email.
But what has yet to be decided is whether Parliament will return in person next month or continue with a hybrid model, which allows MPs to also attend remotely.
Kennedy said the Liberal government believes the hybrid model is working well and should continue.
“Hybrid sessions allow MPs to adapt to the changing circumstances of COVID-19 across the country. “
Conservatives have long opposed virtual presence and have argued throughout the pandemic that their work is too important to be done online.
Now they will have to decide if they will support this approach as a way for their unvaccinated members to participate.
Board decisions are usually made by consensus – which, in theory, means its conservative members agree with vaccination policy – but they are also made confidentially.
The Star requested an interview with Conservative board spokesperson Blake Richards, but received no response on Tuesday.
It is not known how many Tory MPs are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Canadian Press reported last week that 77 of 119 Conservative caucus members – about 65 percent – revealed they were fully vaccinated, while at least two Tory MPs are not vaccinated for what they say they are for medical reasons.
Other members of the Conservative caucus have publicly stated that they support COVID-19 vaccinations, but declined to reveal their own status because they believe it is private information.
British Columbia MP Peter Julian, who represents the NDP on the board of directors and is the party’s House leader, said his party supported both mandatory vaccinations and a hybrid parliament.
These strategies offer the best defense against the possibility that even fully vaccinated MPs could transmit the virus, he said, a particularly relevant issue if they come from communities with high cases.
“Virtual tools that have been developed at a considerable cost. It just doesn’t make sense to dump them, ”he told The Star in an interview.
On Tuesday, Trudeau began a series of one-on-one meetings with opposition leaders to discuss returning to Parliament, starting with Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet.
According to Trudeau’s office, the Prime Minister stressed the need for all MPs to be vaccinated, a position the Bloc had also taken previously.
“They are fully vaccinated or they are staying at home,” Blanchet said last month.
Trudeau is scheduled to meet with O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May on Wednesday.
With files from The Canadian Press
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