Politics

O'Toole leaves MPs who questioned vaccine policy out of his shadow cabinet

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole announced his shadow cabinet today — and notably absent from the list of critics are MPs who have voiced opposition to existing COVID-19 vaccine policies.

Poilievre appointed finance critic, Rempel Garner out at health in Conservative shadow-cabinet shuffle

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole announced his shadow cabinet today — the critics who will stare down Liberal ministers in the House of Commons and press for answers on key files.

Notably absent from the critics' list are MPs who have voiced opposition to COVID-19 vaccine policies.

Newly elected MP and former Conservative leadership contender Leslyn Lewis, long-time MP Marilyn Gladu and Saskatchewan MP Rosemarie Falk have been left on the Conservative backbench without a prominent role in the next Parliament.

Lewis has criticized COVID-19 vaccinations for children. Gladu recently took on a role with a new "civil liberties" working group of parliamentarians concerned about vaccinate mandates. Falk has expressed opposition to what she has called "mandatory vaccinations."

Gladu and Falk served previously in O'Toole's pre-election shadow cabinet as critics for the Queen's Privy Council and seniors respectively. Gladu, who made waves recently by comparing COVID-19 to polio, also served previously as the party's health critic under former leader Andrew Scheer.

B.C. MP Mark Strahl, who said last month in a social media post that vaccine mandates are "discriminatory, coercive and must be opposed," has lost his job as the party's shadow minister for labour.

Ontario MP Dean Allison, the host of an online show that has featured vaccine skeptics as guests, has been left out of the shadow cabinet, although he didn't have a role on O'Toole's team before the September federal election.

Asked what he would do about MPs who have questioned public health guidance or government directives on vaccines, O'Toole said his choices for the shadow cabinet reflect how he feels about the issue.

"We selected experienced MPs who are prepared to fight inflation, prepared to fight the Liberal-NDP coalition and also to address vaccine hesitancy. It's very important for leaders in our shadow cabinet to play that role and that's why I made choices like the ones I just announced," O'Toole said in French.

Former leadership candidates on backbench

Lewis, who has strong support from the social conservative wing of the party, ran a close third place in last year's leadership race.

Newly elected Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis adjusts her mask as she arrives for a caucus meeting. Lewis was left out of Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's shadow cabinet. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

One of the few people of colour elected under the Conservative banner, Lewis has said Canadian children are being "used as shields for adults" and has vowed to stand against the deployment of COVID-19 shots in kids. Most health experts say vaccine coverage in this younger cohort will help Canada achieve some form of herd immunity against the virus.

Gladu also ran for the party's leadership but failed to gain enough early support to get her name on the final ballot.

She is a member of a group of Conservative parliamentarians who recently formed what they call a "civil liberties" working group to advocate for the unvaccinated. While promoting the group's work during an appearance on CTV, Gladu suggested that polio — a disease largely eradicated in Canada through vaccinations — posed more of a threat than COVID-19.

Gladu also said "multiple sources of data" must be reviewed to determine if vaccine mandates actually work to curb the spread of the virus. She said asking people to disclose their vaccination status is a slippery slope that could lead to "discrimination" against people with other health conditions.

WATCH | Conservative MPs form 'mini-caucus' to talk about vaccine-related issues:

Conservative MPs forming ‘mini-caucus’ to talk about vaccine-related issues

26 days ago
11:20
Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, who is spearheading the initiative, joins Power & Politics to discuss how some Conservatives are forming a team within caucus to tackle what they're calling civil liberties issues related to vaccination. 11:20

After the shadow cabinet positions were announced today, Gladu issued a statement to the media retracting her comments.

"I would like to apologize for my inappropriate comments about COVID-19 vaccines during a recent CTV interview. Upon reflection, I recognize how dangerous it is to share misinformation about the severity of COVID-19 and the safety and efficacy of vaccines. I retract these comments in full," Gladu said.

"I apologize unreservedly to Canadians. I also apologize to my caucus colleagues and Leader for the distraction my comments have created."

Experienced MPs take on top critic roles  

Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre is back as the party's finance critic. Known as a hard-charging parliamentarian, Poilievre was swapped out of that role by O'Toole before the last election.

He's back now, O'Toole said, because the Conservatives are intent on holding the government's feet to the fire over its perceived mishandling of inflation. The pandemic, massive government spending and constrained supply chains have caused prices to spike, a phenomenon that makes the cost of living higher for everyone.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre will serve as the party's finance critic. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"As you know, Pierre is one of our strongest communicators. He's tough in the House. I see Liberals quiver when he rises to his feet, whether it's on the WE Charity scandal or other issues," O'Toole said. 

"The big risk facing our country is inflation — the highest rate in 20 years. So, I want Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Freeland worried about their complacency, their overspending and that NDP coalition," O'Toole said, citing media reports suggesting the Liberals and NDP are in talks over some sort of cooperation agreement ahead of Parliament's return on Nov. 22. "They can buy Jagmeet Singh's silence. They cannot buy ours or Pierre's."

Poilievre's replacement as finance critic, B.C. MP Ed Fast, will serve as the party's industry, innovation and science critic. O'Toole said the job change was not a criticism of Fast personally. "I'm a big fan of Ed Fast," O'Toole said.

Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who was a sharp critic of the government's pandemic response, has been shuffled out of her role as health critic and into the natural resources portfolio.

A skilled communicator, Rempel Garner will take on Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, two Liberal ministers who have been tasked with reshaping Canada's climate policy as the country strives to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions by some 40 to 45 per cent by the end of the decade.

WATCH | O'Toole does not include MPs who questioned vaccine policy in his shadow cabinet:

Growing calls for O’Toole to toughen stance on MPs who question COVID-19 vaccines

21 days ago
1:56
There are growing calls for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole to toughen his stance on MPs who question the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. 1:56

Last week at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to put a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, which could have long-term consequences for jobs and growth in Alberta's oil patch.

"We actually want the country to succeed. We want to reduce emissions but not by shutting down an entire sector of the economy when we need them the most," O'Toole said.

"So, you're going to see a mixture of experienced, talented and new voices proposing an economic future that I think Canadians will be desperate for by the time the next election comes."

Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs, who voiced concerns about O'Toole's leadership after the September election, is also out as the party's shadow minister for public safety.

Stubbs told reporters ahead of the first post-election caucus meeting that she was concerned about the party's shift to the centre under O'Toole, criticizing his election flip-flop on firearms in particular.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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