Some members of the federal Conservative caucus have started a fight they’re going to lose, and they just may take the party down with them.
A handful of caucus members are apparently not vaccinated, and as many as a third of the caucus refuses to divulge their vaccination status. Meanwhile, 88 per cent of eligible Canadians have received at least at least one shot of the vaccine and 84 per cent have voted with their arms to be fully vaccinated. When children shortly join the vaccinated majority, Canada will be well over 90 per cent covered.
With new COVID-19 infections now effectively limited to the unvaccinated, the Conservative vaccine dissidents have chosen to take on the millions of Canadians who have had their lives and livelihoods disrupted by the pandemic and the thousands who have suffered the deaths of loved ones. They all just want the pandemic to be truly over so they can return to normal and feel safe.
As a fifth wave of the virus threatens and in the face of the unassailable evidence that the only way to say goodbye to COVID-19 is through vaccination, the Conservative dissidents intend to force a debate on MPs’ privilege when the House of Commons opens on Nov. 22.
As a student of parliamentary procedure for the past 40 years, I understand MPs’ privilege. In 2020, Conservatives stood against the Liberals’ shutting down of Parliament to dodge accountability and against their attempt to spend any amount they wanted for two years without parliamentary oversight. These were recognized by many Canadians as laudable and principled stands.
But the dissidents’ focus on rights is where this all begins to get difficult. Our Constitution rightly protects the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority by recognizing fundamental, human, democratic, legal, mobility, and language rights. It also outlines the balances to be used in adjudicating conflicts among those rights.
Debates over the appropriate balance between majority and minority rights are difficult at the best of times; with COVID-19, they are particularly fraught. When millions of vaccinated Canadians view mandates as protection against the minority who are not, arguing for the rights of a few MPs to withhold information on a health status that can potentially harm or even kill others is a serious challenge. In the current context, an impassioned privilege debate that will devolve into arguments about the rights of unvaccinated angels to dance on the head of a pin is not exactly inspired statecraft. The message it inevitably sends is, “My individual rights are more important than my responsibility to protect and safeguard others.”
Prospects for the civil liberties caucus the dissident Tories intend to create are equally difficult. Again, there is a valid rights debate to be had on communitarian interests versus vaccine mandates and their impacts and medical privacy, but the problem is the anti-science lunacy this will unleash, which will lead to contempt and derision for the party.
Individual Conservative MPs have already illustrated the pitfalls of this debate: misinformation (“polio was a worse threat than COVID”), the “value” of the ivermectin alternative, the argument that the virus is actually a big government plot to seize and abrogate rights, and the bizarre Leslyn Lewis comment, “Never have Canadian children been used as shields for adults.” What does that even mean??? All vaccines are shields against a collective threat.
The huge chasm between the Conservative caucus vaccine dissidents and reality is illustrated by the fact that they blame their leader, Erin O’Toole, for the party’s tepid results in the recent election. Actually, a major factor was the refusal of some of their candidates to disclose their vaccine status publicly. Who would support the Conservatives with candidates refusing to answer the question on everyone’s lips? Why would they vote for a party when candidates were asserting their right to hide their vaccination status from the very people they were asking to elect them.
It is impossible to imagine a set of scenarios better designed to heap national public ridicule on the Conservative Party and its caucus.
Cue the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens giggling their collective backsides off at this self-centred and self-destructive nonsense. For them, Christmas has come early.