Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca wrote to Speaker Ted Arnott asking him to require MPPs to be vaccinated before the legislature returns on Sept. 13. — but Arnott said it's not something he can do.
"...in advance of the return of the legislature, I ask that you mandate vaccinations for all MPPs accessing the precinct, while adhering to the Human Rights Code. In addition, there is also a need for the creation of clear protocols for unvaccinated visitors and staff," the letter reads.
The ask follows a QP Briefing story that surveyed the parties to find out which MPPs have their vaccines, in which many Progressive Conservatives refused to say whether they are immunized.
"According to a media report from last week up to 27 MPPs have not reported their vaccination status," the letter notes.
That number now stands at 24, based on QPB's current count.
Del Duca said unvaccinated MPPs without a human rights exemption should be prevented from voting and accessing the chamber.
But the Speaker said that would interfere with MPPs' rights as elected officials.
"In my view, the imposition of a vaccination mandate on MPPs would have the foreseeable effect of conflicting with MPPs’ rights to enter the precinct to perform and discharge their parliamentary duties and responsibilities," Arnott wrote in a response to Del Duca.
He noted that the legislature could create its own rule barring unvaccinated MPPs — which he could then enforce — but though he encouraged members to get vaccinated, he could not impose a "unilateral directive."
"Notwithstanding rules the assembly itself might adopt to regulate its own meetings in venues of parliamentary business, I think that the public interest requires that MPPs have unfettered access to the Legislative Precinct, in the absence of overwhelming evidence of a demonstrably imminent threat to public health that cannot reasonably be managed and mitigated," he wrote.
One expert said the Liberals likely knew this would happen.
“The Speaker doesn’t act as an emperor of the assembly in that way,” said Emmett Macfarlane, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo.
But Del Duca's ask keeps the issue of PCs' unknown vaccination status in the news while highlighting the Liberals' commitment to mandatory vaccinations.
“I don’t know that they honestly believe the Speaker can unilaterally do this. I think there is an element of politics here," Macfarlane said.
Del Duca said his request is a chance for members to lead by example, noting again that all Liberal MPPs are vaccinated.
"We've seen media reports that suggest the other opposition parties are in the same situation, which is great news. But also the same media reports that suggest there's a large group of Conservative MPPs that have not shared their information, that have not confirmed whether they've received one dose, or both doses or no doses of the vaccine," he said.
"So I think, again, after the 18 months that we've been through, that we've had to endure, if you're gonna be talking to the people of Ontario about what they should be doing, when you are leading a community, when you are an elected representative at this level, of a community, it is the right thing to do for you to step up and do what you are telling the people you represent to do."
Government House Leader Paul Calandra did not immediately respond to a request for comment.