Justin Trudeau of Canada takes advantage of rivals’ division on vaccines as Parliament meets.
Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, whose party came in second in the Sept. 20 vote, has been unable to persuade a part of her group to get vaccinated, meaning they will not be allowed into the House of Commons when it reopens on November 22.
The party refuses to say how many of its MPs 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 adaptations.
The party split is undermining O’Toole as he fights to avoid a leadership review. A Conservative senator launched a petition Monday aimed at ousting O’Toole within six months, saying he was a poor and unreliable leader.
To appease the right-wing of his party, O’Toole opposed vaccination mandates during the campaign and allowed his candidates to not be vaccinated even though most conservative voters embraced vaccines.
“The issue of vaccination is coming back and repeating itself in the (conservative) party as its worst responsibility,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a research foundation.
O’Toole is “a leader who clearly doesn’t feel like he can forcefully push back that libertarian-minded and free-minded segment of the conservative caucus,” he added.
Trudeau, 49, narrowly won the September vote and ended up with a minority, increasing the power of opposition parties and forcing him to rely on them to pass laws.
But the other two main opposition parties side with the liberals on vaccines, isolating the conservatives in what a senior government source called a “dangerous and risky” position on COVID-19 as the cases are increasing again throughout the country.
Speaking to his MPs for the first time since last week’s elections, Trudeau chided conservatives for “opposing vaccination, opposing science, opposing mutual support.”
Trudeau’s tough stance on vaccine mandates is putting some 13,000 officials on unpaid leave due to their refusal to get vaccinated, a move backed by 70% of Canadians, according to a recent EKOS Research survey.
Approximately 85% of eligible Canadians have been vaccinated.
In the United States Congress, CNN has reported that all Democrats are vaccinated, while some Republican members openly say they are not. There is a mask requirement in Congress, but not a vaccine requirement. Canada also has a mask requirement while in parliament.
Conservative lawmaker Marilyn Gladu, who challenged O’Toole in a race for party leadership last year, is forming a 15-30-member “civil liberties” task force to advocate for privacy and a “reasonable accommodation.” for unvaccinated workers.
Leslyn Lewis, who also ran for party leadership last year, tweeted her opposition to the vaccine mandates, as did a few others.
Garry Keller, a former Conservative staff member who is now vice president of public affairs consultancy Strategy Corp, said it’s okay to quietly discuss differences within the caucus.
“But generally speaking, this is a problem among the vast majority of Canadian voters, so why do you want to go down this path?”