An Ontario MPP who has refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine has been removed from the Progressive Conservative Party caucus by Premier Doug Ford.
“Over the past year, I have repeatedly stood in front of Ontarians and urged them to get vaccinated as soon as they become eligible. The people of this province have responded to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 by making sacrifices to keep our families, our communities, ourselves and others safe,” he said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
“It also includes our elected officials, who we all expect to lead by example, and who must rightfully be held to a higher standard.”
Citing the nature of interactions with constituents, Ford said he expects Progressive Conservative MPPs and provincial election candidates to support vaccines and to protect themselves and others.
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To that end, Ford said Chatham—Kent—Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls will no longer be in the PC caucus and has been barred from running on behalf of the party in the 2022 Ontario election.
The confirmation came less than two hours after the southwestern Ontario MPP addressed reporters briefly during a news conference at Queen’s Park.
“I choose to exercise this autonomy over my own body,” he said, noting he made the decision not to get vaccinated after consulting with his long-time wife.
“Under no circumstances will I, nor should any other Ontarian, be forced or coerced to do something against their will … to do so is an affront to the democratic principles of this magnificent institution.”
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Nicholls went on to describe how members of his family lost their livelihoods during the pandemic and how the pandemic took a mental health toll. He said he expressed those views privately.
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The news conference came a day after The Canadian Press reported government whip Lorne Coe issued a letter to Nicholls as well as Scarborough Centre PC MPP Christina Mitas that “every member of the Progressive Conservative team” must get vaccinated unless medically unable to do so further to a caucus meeting, noting proof would be needed either way.
He said elected caucus members have a “responsibility to show leadership” and ensure eligible Ontario residents get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Mitas, a first-term MPP, and Nicholls were given a deadline of 5 p.m. on Thursday to comply with the direction.
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Nicholls, who spoke at 4 p.m., said he was still a member of the PC caucus and would be until he was “told otherwise.”
He also said he received a call from a campaign manager with the Ontario PC Party three days ago and was told “in a demeaning tone” about the policy for vaccinations.
Nicholls, a three-term MPP who was first elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2011, currently serves as deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Ford said Mitas was allowed to stay in the PC caucus after providing a medical exemption from a doctor. His statement said Mitas has said she will be taking unspecified additional precautions while performing MPP-related duties.
The directive from the government whip’s office came after Ford refused to mandate vaccinations for frontline health and education workers despite mounting calls to do so.
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Ford — who has personally been fully vaccinated and has repeatedly urged residents to get their shots — has said he believes individuals have a constitutional right not to take the vaccine.
On Tuesday the provincial government announced it would require employers in several high-risk sectors, including hospitals and publicly funded schools, to introduce strict COVID-19 vaccination policies.
People in those jobs will need to provide proof of vaccination, a medical exemption or take an education session about COVID-19 vaccination. Those who remain unvaccinated will be subject to regular testing before coming to work.
With Nicholls removed from the PC caucus, there are now 70 PC MPPs, 40 NDP MPPs, seven Liberal MPPs, four independents, one Green Party MPP, one New Blue Party MPP and there is one vacant riding.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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