Board overstepped in imposing vaccine mandate on House: Speaker
OTTAWA -- House Speaker Anthony Rota has sided with the Conservative challenge of the imposition of a vaccine mandate on the Commons, ruling that the chamber’s governing body that made the decision overstepped and breached MPs’ privileges.
In a ruling issued Thursday, Rota said that he agrees with the issue raised over how the Board of Internal Economy imposed the order, stating that the board “exceeded its authority in a way that conflicts with the privileges of the House.”
“The board’s decision to restrict access to the precinct only to those who are fully vaccinated or who have a valid medical exemption, including members, has the effect of putting conditions on members’ participation in the proceedings of the House,” Rota said.
However, because the Liberals and NDP teamed up to pass a hybrid sitting motion that included language explicitly endorsing the BOIE’s decision and the conditions it imposed, Rota’s ruling does not change the rules. The requirement to be fully vaccinated or have a valid medical exemption remains in effect for all who are looking to enter buildings within the Commons’ precinct.
Chief opposition whip Blake Richards raised the question of privilege on Nov. 23, questioning specifically the authority of the board to be able to make the decision to impose a vaccine mandate, stating at the time the Conservatives’ issue was not with the mandate itself, rather how it was decided.
At the time, Richards said that it is electors and not MPs who should be deciding who can and cannot enter the House, and that just because there’s a pandemic the rights of Parliament should not be “tossed out.”
In making his ruling, Rota did note that the context in which the board made the decision to impose the mandate was important—such as the House not being in session at the time and the board being mandated to handle all House administrative matters— backing up some of the arguments made by the parties who disagreed with the Conservatives’ challenge.
When the challenge was first raised, some MPs also spoke about how they felt their collective privileges were being impeded as a result of the Conservatives’ refusal to disclose its members’ vaccination status.
Addressing this, Rota told the House on Thursday that “all medical exemptions, whether for members or for staff, are reviewed by the health and safety personnel of the House administration. Anyone with a valid exemption must provide a recent negative COVID-19 test result in order to access the buildings in the precinct.”
Richards had asked that if his challenge was found to have merit, a vote would be put to the House of Commons on what the rules around vaccination or rapid testing should be for members of Parliament.
In making the ruling, Rota found that request out of scope but gave the Conservatives the option to work on an acceptable motion to either censure the board or refer the matter to committee for further discussion.
However, raising in response to the ruling on Thursday, Richards indicated that he doesn’t intend to pursue the matter any further.
“I believe he certainly has established that, you know, the principle that the Board of Internal Economy does not have the independent authority to deny members access to the precinct, therefore I am satisfied with the ruling, and I think the fact that that precedent has been set is satisfactory,” he said.
O’Toole had signalled back in October that this challenge was coming, but said then that all of his members will “respect and abide by” the rules, before and after the Speaker ruled.
Citing Richards’ satisfaction, the Speaker “considers this matter to be closed.”