The federal Conservatives, the only caucus yet to confirm how many of its MPs remain unvaccinated—have come out in opposition to the new mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy announced by the House of Commons.
The decision to implement a vaccine mandate was made on Tuesday by the Board of Internal Economy, a cross-party committee of nine MPs in House leadership roles, including Conservatives. It will require anyone entering the House of Commons precinct to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Nov. 22, when the 44th Parliament kicks off.
The Conservatives say that they don’t think it should be up to a committee of MPs to decide who can and cannot enter spaces on Parliament Hill, though the committee has historically overseen the workings of the House of Commons.
“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 Conservative Blake Richards in a statement.
Mr. Richards is one of the two Conservative members on the board, which held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.
While what happens in-camera at parliamentary committee meetings is not meant to be discussed publicly, Mr. Richard’s statement suggests that the decision was most likely approved by the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc Quebecois, whose caucuses are all fully vaccinated.
The once historically secretive board of MPs held its first open door meeting in October 2017 after the Liberals promised to make the body that governs MPs’ spending, approves House budgets, manages employment and other House administration matters, open by default.
According to the Parliament of Canada Act, the Board meets in-camera for a range of reasons, including if the matters being discussed relate to security, employment, staff relations, or if all of the members of the Board who are present agree that it be held behind closed doors.
There will be limited exemptions offered to those with medical contraindications to the COVID-19 vaccines, with the requirement to show proof of a recent negative antigen test in order to enter the buildings that make up the House of Commons precinct.
Much like the party’s position during the federal election campaign, the Conservatives say that rapid tests should be offered to those who have chosen not to get vaccinated.
“I can’t discuss what happens at an in-camera meeting but I will say that we’ve always said that vaccines are the most important tool to get us out of this pandemic. As we said during the election, workplace health and safety can be assured through vaccination or the demonstration of a recent negative rapid test result,” Mr. Richards said in his statement.
Given the timing of this order coming into effect, it’s possible unvaccinated Conservatives would not be able to enter the House of Commons next month unless they have a valid exemption.
The details of how this new policy will be enforced have yet to be articulated.
In addition to MPs, the policy applies to MPs’ Ottawa staff, political research office employees, administration employees, members of the parliamentary press gallery, parliamentary business visitors, contractors and consultants who want to come into any of the several buildings that hold the House chamber, MPs’ offices, press conference spaces, and committee meeting rooms.
In announcing the mandate, House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota said that the decision to impose the policy was taken “to meet ongoing recommendations from public health authorities to help limit the spread of COVID-19 within the work environment.”
It’s unclear what the Conservative Party’s next steps will be in terms of challenging the decision or trying to make a case that this move, while supported by the majority of their colleagues, is considered an infringement on their individual parliamentary privileges. However, the House does also have collective rights.
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