Deputy Speaker Rick Nicholls — one of the two Progressive Conservative MPPs who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — has been booted from caucus. The other, Christina Mitas, has been allowed to stay in the party due to a "medical exemption."
A statement from Premier Doug Ford Thursday said elected officials "must rightfully be held to a higher standard."
Nicholls "failed to provide a legitimate reason for exemption from vaccination," he said, but Mitas "will remain in caucus as she has provided a statement of medical exemption signed by a physician and made assurances she will take additional precautions while carrying out her duties as an elected representative."
Before the premier's statement, Nicholls announced that he would not give in to the party's demand to get his shots. PC Whip Lorne Coe had sent him and Mitas a letter demanding they get their first dose of the vaccine by Thursday at 5 p.m. or provide proof of a medical exemption.
Nicholls said he also got a call from the manager of the 2022 PC campaign, who "in a demeaning tone" told him about the deadline.
"Under no circumstances will I, nor should any Ontarian, be forced or coerced," he explained.
“For personal reasons, and together with my wife Diane of 44 years, I made the personal decision not to inoculate with the COVID-19 vaccine," he said.
“I took the premier at his word that vaccination is a choice, and that all Ontarians have a constitutional right to make such a choice.”
Ford said in July that he believed vaccine mandates for certain front-line workplaces were unconstitutional. He didn't explain his reasoning at the time, or why he's changed his mind.
Health experts recommend those who are pregnant get vaccinated. Guidance from the Ministry of Health states that pregnant people are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and the vaccines have been demonstrated to be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding people.
Nicholls took no questions from the media.
He said the vaccine’s effects may decline after four to eight months, and that vaccinated people may spread the virus just as easily as the unvaccinated.
These statements are misleading.
A recent study from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found, based on one site not representative of day-to-day life, that vaccinated people who experience “breakthrough” infections — which are very rare — may spread the virus just as easily as unvaccinated.
Pfizer says its vaccine's efficacy against symptomatic disease drops to 84 per cent after six months, while Moderna says its does not fall, though booster shots may be necessary due to the Delta variant. AstraZeneca says it has not seen a decline in efficacy yet in its shot, though it is monitoring.
All approved COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to greatly reduce the risk of infection and severe illness associated with the virus. Ontario's public data on hospitalizations is incomplete, but it shows the vast majority of intensive care patients with COVID are unvaccinated.
Ontario has administered over 20 million doses, and just 536 cases — or 0.00268 per cent — had a “serious” adverse event.
Nicholls' exit leaves the PCs with 70 members — down from 76 when they were elected in 2018. Since then five other members have been kicked out of the party or left on their own: Randy Hillier, Jim Wilson, Roman Baber, Belinda Karahalios and Amanda Simard.
The party is still comfortably above the 63 seats needed for a majority government.
The decision comes after a QP Briefing report that many PC MPPs refused to share their vaccination status. It resulted in public backlash and a scramble by the governing party to make sure its members were vaccinated — reportedly including calls from high-level staffers to MPPs demanding they get their shots, and an emergency caucus meeting on the topic.
That meeting was followed by an official letter from Coe to the two unvaccinated MPPs, giving them an ultimatum: get your shots or get out of the party.
Nicholls (Chatham-Kent—Leamington) is reportedly devoutly religious and made headlines in 2015 for saying he doesn't believe in evolution.
He did not engage in Twitter posts encouraging Ontarians to get their vaccines, as nearly all PC MPPs did.
Mitas did tweet about the topic, encouraging the federal government to ship more vaccines to Ontario.
Today, I join Scarborough Members of Provincial Parliament to call upon the Prime Minister of Canada to provide a stable supply of #COVID19 vaccinations. @SHNcares
decision to pause the administration of vaccines to residents was the direct result of the ongoing supply shortage. pic.twitter.com/PZR45LUGM4
— Christina Mitas, MPP (@Christina_Mitas) April 15, 2021
A report from the Toronto Star reported that Nicholls argued during the emergency caucus meeting about the importance of freedom of choice.
Mitas (Scarborough Centre) has raised doubts about the efficacy of masking and lockdown orders. She wrote a letter to Premier Doug Ford urging him to reverse the sweeping powers granted to police in April, during the third wave of COVID-19 — which he did, following public outcry.
Photo Richard J. Brennan / Toronto Star