Canada’s Trudeau exploits rival vaccine division as Parliament meets again

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a Liberal Caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 8, 2021. REUTERS / Blair Gable / File Photo

OTTAWA, Nov. 16 (Reuters) – Canada’s vaccine mandate for Parliament helps Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau exploit divisions within the opposition Conservative Party, some of which lawmakers will be excluded from when government resumes House of Commons next week.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, whose party came second in the September 20 vote, failed to persuade part of her caucus to get the shot, meaning they won’t be allowed to enter the House of Commons when it reopens on November 22.

The party refuses to say how many of its parliamentary members are not vaccinated. O’Toole encourages the use of vaccines and says his MPs will follow House of Commons rules, but some prominent figures in his party want accommodations.

The party split undermines O’Toole as he fights to avoid a leadership review. A Conservative senator on Monday launched a petition to oust O’Toole within six months, claiming he was a poor and untrustworthy leader.

To appease the right wing of his party, O’Toole opposed vaccination mandates during the campaign and allowed his candidates not to be vaccinated even though most Conservative voters adopted the vaccines.

“The vaccination problem sort of comes back and repeats itself on the (conservative) party as its absolute worst liability,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a research foundation.

O’Toole is “a leader who clearly does not think he can strongly push back this segment of the conservative caucus with a libertarian spirit and freedom,” she added.

Trudeau, 49, narrowly won the September vote and ended up with a minority, strengthening the power of opposition parties and forcing him to depend on them to pass laws.

But the other two main opposition parties are siding with the liberals on vaccines, isolating the Tories in what a high-level government source has called a “dangerous and risky” position on COVID-19 as cases rise again across the country.

Speaking to his MPs for the first time since last week’s election, Trudeau criticized the Conservatives for “opposing vaccination, against science, not being there for each other.”

Trudeau’s tough stance on vaccination warrants puts some 13,000 public servants on unpaid leave of absence because of their refusal to be vaccinated, a decision supported by 70% of Canadians, according to a recent EKOS Research poll.

Some 85% of eligible Canadians have been vaccinated.

In the United States Congress, CNN reported that all Democrats are vaccinated, while some Republican members openly say they are not. There is a mask requirement in Congress, but no vaccine requirement. Canada also has a mask requirement while sitting in Parliament.

Conservative lawmaker Marilyn Gladu, who challenged O’Toole in a leadership race last year, forms 15-30-member “civil liberties” task force to advocate for privacy and “accommodation reasonable “for unvaccinated workers.

Leslyn Lewis, who also ran for party leadership last year, has tweeted her opposition to vaccination warrants, as have a handful of others.

Garry Keller, a former senior Conservative staff member who is now vice president of public affairs consultancy Strategy Corp, said it was okay to quietly discuss differences within the caucus.

“But generally speaking, he’s a loser of a problem among the vast majority of Canadian voters, so why do you want to go down that road?”

Reporting by Steve Scherer; edited by Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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