Politics

O'Toole concedes some Conservative MPs have caused 'confusion' over vaccines

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said today he expects his party's MPs to promote vaccines and leave talk about their efficacy to the health experts — a comment that comes after a Conservative caucus member made some eyebrow-raising comments about COVID-19 shots over the weekend.

Conservative MP launching 'civil liberties' working group compared COVID-19 to polio

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today he expects his party's MPs to promote vaccines and leave talk about their efficacy to the health experts — a comment that comes after a Conservative caucus member made some eyebrow-raising comments about COVID-19 shots over the weekend.

O'Toole and his team have been grappling with questions about vaccines for months as some of his party's MPs and senators have spoken out against mandatory shots or have avoided getting vaccinated altogether.

O'Toole has tried to walk a fine line — telling Canadians he supports the vaccination campaign while opposing mandatory vaccination rules for public servants and the travelling public.

O'Toole also has said his party will challenge a House of Commons Board of Internal Economy policy that requires all MPs attending Parliament in person to be vaccinated — but has refused to say how many Conservative caucus members are fully vaccinated.

A group of Conservative parliamentarians 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, Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu suggested that polio — a disease largely eradicated in Canada through vaccinations — posed more of a threat than COVID-19.

"In terms of the risk, people that got polio, many of them died and many of them were crippled, and that is not the same frequency of risk that we see with COVID-19," she said in an interview on the network's Question Period program.

"I'm just receiving the information from medical experts that talk about the relative risk. I'm not a doctor myself."

Between 1949 and 1954, 11,000 people in Canada incurred some degree of paralysis and 500 people died due to polio. More than 29,000 Canadians have died so far of COVID-19 since the onset of this health crisis in early 2020.

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.

"People are being forced to disclose and the question is, what is next?" she said.

In an interview with CBC's Power & Politics, Gladu said vaccine mandates "infringe on people's rights" and that politicians "need to hear from all sides," including those who choose to go unvaccinated.

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

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

3 months ago
Duration 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

Asked about Gladu's comparison of COVID-19 to polio, O'Toole said Conservatives "take a professional approach to discussions on the safety of vaccines."

"That was not the case yesterday with Ms. Gladu. There is a big difference between the work you do as an MP for your constituents and questions involving reasonable accommodations and the matter of efficacy of vaccines. Vaccines are safe and effective," O'Toole said. "There is a big difference between the work done by MPs for constituents and creating confusion."

Gladu's comments not 'helpful,' says O'Toole

With more than five million eligible Canadians still choosing to avoid vaccination, O'Toole said, politicians should be focused on helping the hesitant find answers to legitimate questions.

"Ms. Gladu's interview yesterday added more questions and I don't think that's helpful," he said.

Gladu isn't the first Conservative MP to speak out about vaccine policy. Newly elected MP Leslyn Lewis, who placed a close third in the 2020 Conservative leadership race, has emerged as a vocal critic of plans to roll out COVID-19 shots to kids, saying Canadian children are being "used as shields for adults."

Most health experts say vaccine coverage in this younger cohort will help Canada finally achieve some form of herd immunity against the virus.

Tory MP Dean Allison, who represents the Ontario riding of Niagara West, has invited speakers challenging the widespread use of COVID-19 vaccines onto a show he broadcasts online. Those guests — some of them doctors — have suggested vaccines aren't necessary for those previously infected by the virus, a position that is not widely held by public health experts.

"It's a great example of why members of Parliament, of all stripes, should let the professionals, the public health officials, the physicians, answer questions about efficacy of vaccines or provincial programs on vaccines," O'Toole said when asked about the actions of these MPs.

O'Toole dodged questions about whether these MPs should be booted from caucus for questioning the advice of public health officials, saying caucus membership isn't a decision for the leader alone.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pounced on the Conservatives' disunity on vaccines ahead of a Liberal caucus meeting today. He said Conservative squabbling over vaccines threatens the country's pandemic recovery.

"Even as Canadians are moving forward, even as Canadians are continuing to get vaccinated at record rates, the Conservatives are actually moving backwards. More and more Conservatives are stepping up to stand against vaccination, to stand against science," Trudeau said.

WATCH: Trudeau calls out Conservative MPs on vaccination

Trudeau calls out Conservative MPs on vaccination

2 months ago
Duration 1:21
During the Liberal Party's national caucus meeting in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Conservative MPs should set an example for the public when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination. 1:21

He said he wouldn't tolerate Liberal MPs challenging the Commons vaccine mandate.

"I can't imagine any of you putting up your hand and saying, 'Well, I deserve special treatment because I'm an MP.' I can't imagine it occurring to any of you to say that, but that's what Conservatives are saying," he said.

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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