As MPs prepare for the start of a new session of the House of Commons in just over two weeks, the Conservative Party still hasn’t confirmed just how many Conservatives will be there in person.
The party has not officially disclosed how many of its members remain unvaccinated. Multiple Conservative sources describe the number as merely a “handful” — less than 10. The party won’t say whether it has asked its MPs about their vaccination status.
But under the new rules adopted by a small panel of MPs earlier this fall, members will have to disclose that status and be fully vaccinated in order to take their seats.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s decision not to require that all Conservative MPs be vaccinated against COVID-19 has divided caucus and has been the subject of heated debate at recent meetings, sources tell CBC News.
CBC News reached out to all 119 Conservative MPs individually on the issue; 81 confirmed they are fully vaccinated, three would not disclose their vaccination status and 35 did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Party source warns against ‘getting distracted’
The Green Party, Bloc Québécois and NDP have confirmed that all of their MPs are fully vaccinated. The Liberal Party also says all of its MPs are fully vaccinated, except for one with a medical exemption.
“A handful of people aren’t going to stop Conservatives from doing their jobs. We can’t give Trudeau a free pass by getting distracted here,” one Conservative party source not authorized to speak publicly told CBC News Wednesday.
The Commons mandatory vaccination rule is expected to be a source of contention when Parliament resumes sitting on Nov. 22.
All MPs and all staff will need to show proof of complete vaccination to enter the West Block and the House of Commons. The new rules were set by the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), the body that governs administrative policies related to the House.
WATCH: O’Toole reacts to mandatory vaccination rule
After meeting with his caucus in Ottawa last week to discuss the ruling, O’Toole announced he would challenge the board’s decision.
“A question of privilege will be raised in the House of Commons to challenge the improper conduct and precedent set,” he said at the time.
It will be up to the Speaker to decide if O’Toole’s objection requires further debate, which could lead to committee referral and eventually a vote.
O’Toole also said last week he’s put forward an alternative plan to Conservative members.
“Caucus agreed to respect and abide by new rules which require Parliamentarians attending in the House of Commons and Senate to be vaccinated,” he said, adding that “all of our members in the House of Commons will be vaccinated.”
MP calls for concessions for the unvaccinated
O’Toole is pushing for a full in-person session of Parliament instead of one operating under the virtual or hybrid model — a move that would prevent his own unvaccinated MPs from taking their seats under the current rules.
But Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs, who represents the constituency of Lakeland in Alberta, said she believes the BOIE needs to make allowances for those who can’t or won’t be vaccinated. She also told CBC News last week the party’s communication of its position has been unclear.
“I think we are back in the situation once again where there is lack of clarity around our position,” she said. “I think that has been problematic in and of itself as a general conundrum and will continue to be problematic and I think that is why you are seeing MPs speaking out, saying that we should be consistent with the position we have already taken.”
Heading into the party’s caucus meeting last week, Alberta MP Glen Motz sparred with reporters on the issue. He refused to divulge his vaccination status, adding, “You can draw your own inference from my ability to enter the House of Commons. I’ll leave it at that.”
Sources say some Conservative MPs feel the freedom to withhold one’s vaccination status is a fundamental right. Motz said he believes the issue has overshadowed other priorities but he does not blame the party.
“I think the whole issue is a distraction. I think Trudeau has done a great job of dividing Canadians, period,” he said.
Motz, who represents the Alberta community of Medicine Hat, also said he’s concerned about how vaccine mandates are affecting his constituents.
“I think it’s a broader issue than just for MPs,” he said. “I think there are a lot of Canadians who are at risk of losing their job because of vaccine mandates and I think that is a concern for many.”