MPs will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to go back into the House of Commons

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Ottawa — Add one more workplace to the list of where people are required to be fully vaccinated to show up in person: Parliament Hill.

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Members of Parliament decided on Tuesday that they and their staff should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in what is known as the House of Commons complex, a collection of buildings that are part of the federal government in downtown Ottawa. Forms the seat of government.

The decision comes after questions about mandatory COVID-19 vaccination becoming a partisan flashpoint during the recent federal election campaign.

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But that doesn’t end the debate entirely, especially for federal conservatives.

During the campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aggressively pointed out that Conservative leader Erin O’Toole was opposed to compulsory vaccination policies.

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He alleged that O’Toole’s inability to fully vaccinate his team meant he was unprepared to lift the country out of the pandemic.

For his part, O’Toole insisted he supports vaccinations against COVID-19 and believes people should get them, but said the government should neither require them, nor should Canadians. People should be forced to disclose their personal health information. During the campaign O’Toole said that repeated COVID-19 testing for the unaffiliated should be offered as a compromise.

While conservatives believed their position was at odds with public opinion at the start of the campaign, this quickly became an issue as the fourth wave of the pandemic and the implementation of mandatory vaccination policies in provinces including Ontario and Alberta – both Conservative in the leadership – made the national party out of step.

The newly-elected Liberal government moved swiftly to mandate vaccinations for people aboard planes and trains, along with federal public service policies that will go into effect in the coming weeks.

Those policies in turn gave rise to the question of what members of parliament are needed.

Finding answers fell into the hands of the Board of the Internal Economy, which is made up of MPs from all parties; They traditionally check their partisan allegiance at the door to set the rules and guidelines for the conduct of the House of Commons.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, House Speaker Anthony Rota said the compulsory vaccination policy would take effect from November 22, the day parliament resumes.

Only those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will have the option to provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

“Details regarding the implementation of the Board’s decision are being developed and will be communicated in due course,” Rota said in the statement.

The policy will also apply to the House of Commons administration, members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, contractors and anyone else doing official work on the Hill, which will be closed to the public until at least next year, the statement said.

But it is yet to be decided whether parliament will return in person next month or continue with a hybrid model, which allows lawmakers to participate even remotely.

The Tories have long been opposed to virtual presence, and argued throughout the pandemic that their works were too important to be done online.

Now they must decide whether they will support that approach as a means for their non-vaccinated members to participate.

Board decisions are usually taken by consensus – which, in theory, means that its conservative members agree with the vaccination policy – ​​but they are also in confidence.

Star requested an interview with the board’s Conservative spokesman Blake Richards, but did not receive a response Tuesday.

It is not clear how many Conservative lawmakers have not been vaccinated for COVID-19.

The Canadian Press reported last week that 77 of the 119 members of the Conservative caucus – about 65 percent – have disclosed that they have been fully vaccinated, while at least two Conservative lawmakers say they are illiterate for medical reasons. Huh.

Other Conservative caucus members have publicly stated that they support COVID-19 vaccination, but have declined to reveal their position because they believe it to be private information.

BC MP Peter Julian, who represents the NDP on the board, said his party supports both compulsory vaccination and a hybrid parliament.

Those strategies provide the best defense against the possibility that even fully vaccinated lawmakers could transmit the virus to people from their constituencies in Ottawa or vice versa, he said, an issue of particular relevance if they come from those communities. where the weight of the case is high.

“Virtual devices that have been developed at considerable expense. There is no point in separating them, ”he told Star in an interview.

On Tuesday, Trudeau began a series of one-on-one meetings with opposition leaders to discuss a return to parliament, beginning with Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchett.

According to Trudeau’s office, the prime minister stressed the need for all lawmakers to be vaccinated, as the bloc had previously taken.

“They get fully vaccinated or they stay at home,” Blanchett said last month.

On Wednesday, Trudeau is scheduled to meet O’Toole, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May.

With files from the Canadian Press
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Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @ Stephanie Levitz
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