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Canada's opposition Conservatives face questions over vaccination status

11/22/2021 | 05:21pm EST
Nova Scotia’s Premier Tim Houston meets with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada's ruling Liberals questioned on Monday whether rival Conservatives - the largest opposition party - were being honest about the vaccination status of their lawmakers as parliament reconvened after the September election.

Parliamentary rules require that all legislators be inoculated against COVID-19, a policy supported by every party except the Conservatives. The full House of Commons met for the first time since the pandemic forced virtual meetings or in-person sessions with reduced numbers last year.

The House re-elected Liberal Anthony Rota for his second stint as speaker. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will outline his priorities for the new session in a speech on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Conservative leader Erin O'Toole said all his lawmakers had been vaccinated or had secured a medical exemption.

"Every member is in compliance" with the House rules on vaccination "as far as we know," Jake Enwright, a Conservative spokesman, said on Monday. One vaccinated member who recently contracted COVID-19 is in quarantine, he added.

Some Conservative lawmakers "are away due to reasons unrelated to COVID-19 or the House of Commons vaccine mandate," another Conservative spokesperson, Josie Sabatino, said.

"The likelihood that you have a medical exemption from the vaccination is one to five in 100,000," said Mark Holland, the Liberal government leader in the House. "The Conservative caucus is 119 people, (so) statistically the likelihood that they would have multiple people who are exempt ... is extraordinarily low."

The Liberals have one member who was granted a medical exemption, but the House speaker's office declined to say how many total exemptions there had been among the 338 House members.

Trudeau narrowly won https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-trudeau-may-cling-power-election-looks-unlikely-secure-majority-2021-09-20 the September election, but with a minority government that depends on opposition parties to pass legislation.

He has been exploiting https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-trudeau-exploits-rivals-split-vaccines-parliament-reconvenes-2021-11-16 divisions in the Conservative Party over vaccines as O'Toole fends off calls by some for a leadership review given the election loss. Trudeau's government is putting some 13,000 civil servants on unpaid leave because of their refusal to get inoculated, a move supported by 70% of Canadians, according to a recent EKOS Research poll.

Opposition New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh also weighed in on Monday, accusing Conservatives of "not wanting to keep their colleagues safe" and showing "their complete lack of understanding" of what people are going through.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)

By Steve Scherer

© Reuters 2021
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