Pandemic protocols for getting into Queen’s Park are getting tougher — but not tough enough according to opposition parties.
MPPs, political staff, journalists and anyone entering the building will have to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a “recent” rapid antigen test “to further protect all of us” when the fall session begins Oct. 4, speaker of the legislature Ted Arnott ruled in a new directive Thursday.
That means unvaccinated Independent MPPs including Rick Nicholls — recently booted from Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative caucus for refusing to get two shots — and Randy Hillier will have to submit to regular testing, as will PC MPP Christina Mitas, who has an undisclosed medical exemption.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the policy falls short given that Ford’s vaccine passport system launched Wednesday requires patrons be fully vaccinated to enter high-risk, non-essential venues such as theatres. Only medical exemptions are allowed.
“Mandatory testing isn’t the same thing as mandatory vaccination,” said Del Duca. “People already need to be vaccinated to go to gyms, restaurants, and so many other settings. It’s not good enough for MPPs to be given special treatment in the form of testing loopholes.”
New Democrat MPP Peggy Sattler said on Twitter the legislature “should be leading by example.”
“Why would the government expect less of an MPP than they expect of someone going to a movie or out for dinner?”
Anyone entering the building must now pass seven screening questions and wear a mask.
Specifics on timelines and procedures for rapid antigen tests and who pays for them were not provided in the speaker’s directive.
“More detailed information about the new procedures will be made available shortly,” wrote Arnott, a Progressive Conservative MPP who referees the legislature’s daily question period and oversees the operation of the building.
After the Liberals requested in August that Arnott bar unvaccinated MPPs from the legislature, the speaker signalled that would be unlikely.
“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 preform and discharge their parliamentary duties and responsibilities,” Arnott said in a reply to the party.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath flip-flopped last month on mandatory vaccinations for health-care and education workers, initially saying they would violate Charter rights but later admitting “I was wrong … this unprecedented time requires unprecedented actions.”
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