Don Martin: The friendly face of Erin O'Toole's worst nightmare
OTTAWA -- She’s been christened Canada’s Most Collegial MP by Maclean’s magazine several times, but Marilyn Gladu’s non-stop smile now masks serious long-haul suffering for her Conservative leader boss.
The friendliest MP has become Erin O’Toole’s deadliest foe as Gladu steps forward as the personification of internal caucus sympathy, if not support, for anti-vaccination forces.
As you know by now, Gladu is proposing a “Civil Liberties Caucus” to discuss issues raised by those punished for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Naturally Gladu insists this isn’t an anti-vaxxer group as much as it is about defending liberties being taken away by the drive to vaccinate all Canadians so this wretched pandemic can be given last rites.
Oh yeah? So where was Gladu’s civil liberties dedication when abortion access was severely curtailed in New Brunswick or when Quebec women were fired from public service jobs for simply wearing a niqab? Nowhere in her Conservative caucus, that’s for sure.
Gladu then proceeded to unfurl nationally televised ignorance on the worst public health crisis of our lives by making the ludicrous comparison of COVID-19 deaths in Canada (29,000 and rising) to polio (500 back in the early 1950s) on CTV’s Question Period last weekend. It took her two days to retract and apologize for her comments, undoubtedly only under extreme duress from the leader’s office.
The subplot to the festering of anti-vaccination sentiment in Parliament are the flurry of petitions being delivered by Conservative MPs – including one demanding the government authorize the use of ivermectin, a horse deworming treatment, to fight COVID-19 in humans over the alarmed objections of just about anybody with a medical license.
Add that lunacy to Conservative-sponsored petitions to declare vaccinations unsafe or an end vaccine passports and you have the bogus building blocks for every anti-vax organization in the world.
This madness puts O’Toole in a helluva dilemma. He can either save himself or save the party.
If he tolerates the anti-vaccinate dissent, he might preserve his leadership from a mutiny of rabblerousers in caucus or at the spring general meeting but kill his longer-term credibility.
If he gives them the boot, he risks creating a breakaway People’s Party caucus in the House of Commons and giving them a podium to re-fracture the Conservatives back into two rival parties.
Between gulps while repeating his scripted non-answers Tuesday, the besieged Conservative leader punted a decision on the fate of the unvaccinated and anti-vax sympathizers to a meeting of his divided caucus next week.
It’s clear what he’s doing.
This is O’Toole playing for time with hopes the crazy caucus idea falls apart under pressure from common sense MPs who understand that having an anti-vaxx splinter in their midst will mean constant Commons condemnation from the Liberals, who smell a majority coming in the next election.
But despite the risks to his resume, this is a clarion call for clear, decisive, zero-tolerance leadership from O’Toole.
Voters didn’t trust O’Toole with a winning mandate in the October election, partly because they were confused about his chameleon shifts from hard-right leadership candidate to middle-ground new leader to full-on moderate hopeful campaigning for the prime minister’s job.
He can’t afford to muddy about on the final push to end the pandemic by tolerating anti-vaccination sympathizers and supporters inside a Conservative team that MUST lead the country by MP example.
The right to be a patient in a hospital where ALL health-care workers are vaccinated trumps fears based on bogus conspiracy theories. Ditto for the right to face vaccinated police, teachers and flight crews.
With our kids on the verge of getting their shots, the final demographic is engaging the push for blanket vaccine coverage in Canada.
Confusion, ignorance and political games are not to be tolerated.
Any encouragement of anti-vaccination argument is a health hazard to all Canadians in general and particularly to politicians allowing it to spread.
That’s the bottom line.