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Liberals want return of hybrid Parliament and strict limits on Commons vaccine exemptions

Erin O'Toole said all Conservative MPs have followed the rules and shown documentation to the House of Commons administration. He said the Liberals should stop politicizing the issue

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OTTAWA — MPs will continue to participate in debates from their computer screens and medical exemptions to the Commons vaccine policy will be severely limited under a proposal the Liberals hope to push through Parliament this week.

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Almost all of the country’s 338 MPs returned to Ottawa Monday for the election of a new Speaker and Tuesday’s throne speech. They are required to wear masks and be fully vaccinated, but they can also present a medical exemption to the House of Commons administration in order to attend in person.

Liberal House Leader Mark Holland said his party believes some Conservative MPs have offered up medical exemptions and the Liberals want the rules to be tighter.

They are suggesting relying on the chief medical officer of Ontario’s very narrow set of medical exemptions.

“We need to go one step further to make it clear what constitutes a valid medical exemption and it makes sense to take that from the jurisdiction which we’re in,” Holland said Tuesday.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has offered up just two valid exemptions: people who are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccines and people aged 12 to 17 who have ​​myocarditis.

People who have adverse reactions to their first shot can also qualify for an exemption to the second shot under Moore’s guidelines.

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The Liberals, NDP and Bloc have indicated that all their MPs are vaccinated. But Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has not said how many of his 118 MPs have been vaccinated or if any have a medical exemption.

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O’Toole declined to answer those questions again on Tuesday. He said all of his MPs have followed the rules and shown documentation to the House of Commons administration. He said the Liberals should stop politicizing the issue.

“We want to see the rules the civil servants and health authorities, here on Parliament Hill, respected,” he said. “It’s time for the Liberal party to stop misleading and dividing Canadians.”

He said the House administration are public servants and the Liberals shouldn’t be questioning their impartiality.

“We will always follow the rules and we will work with the nurses and health authorities here on the Hill. They are not employees of the Conservative party.”

The Commons vaccine mandate was brought in by the Board of Internal Economy, a committee of MPs from all parties that governs the internal workings of the House of Commons.

The Conservatives introduced a point of privilege in the Commons Tuesday, challenging the committee’s authority to impose a vaccine mandate and arguing the choice should have been made by a vote of all MPs.

Holland said the Conservatives’ lack of transparency on vaccination is driving the need for tighter rules. Given the narrow circumstances behind medical exemptions, it’s “statistically improbable,” several Conservative MPs would be medically exempt, he added.

“I don’t know how many Conservatives are unvaccinated currently. I don’t know how many of them were exposed to this Conservative member who has been diagnosed as having COVID-19,” Holland said, referring to Quebec MP Richard Lehoux who announced over the weekend he had tested positive for COVID-19, despite being double vaccinated. Holland said a hybrid sitting would allow MPs who test positive or are waiting for tests after displaying symptoms to participate virtually.

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“The idea that some of this can’t be done at distance, I don’t accept and I don’t accept it because it’s not in the best interest of public health,” Holland said.

A vote on the Liberals’ motion could take place as early as Wednesday evening, but debate could delay it. The minority Liberals would need the support of one other party to pass the motion.

The NDP has said it supports some hybrid provisions for Parliament during the pandemic. The ​​Bloc Québécois has said it is opposed to them.

O’Toole said he wants the House of Commons functioning normally, with MPs back in the chamber.

“It was good to see the chamber full yesterday. It was good to see MPs safely working together in the nation’s interest,” he said. “We want to see Parliament return to proper function.”

• Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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