Conservative MPs will be free to travel internationally over the holidays while their Liberal and NDP counterparts have been told to stay home.
Politicians jet-setting to different vacation destinations drew much attention last year as federal and provincial governments told Canadians to forgo their travel and gathering plans to combat rising COVID-19 caseloads.
The federal Liberal government issued Wednesday a new advisory urging Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel because of the threat posed by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
A Liberal official said the governing party’s MPs have been informed that they are to abide by the public health advice and avoid non-essential international travel.
Liberal House Leader Mark Holland told The Canadian Press he has already cancelled a planned international trip to celebrate a family member’s 70th birthday in January, and is cutting back on plans to have a Christmas gathering with more than 20 people.
NDP whip Rachel Blaney said her caucus has also been advised to avoid non-essential international travel, adding that “Canadians expect elected officials to lead by example by following the rules.”
“Canadians are tired and understandably disappointed that we’re not yet out of the pandemic but it’s more important than ever to follow public health advice to keep each other safe,” Blaney said in a statement.
But Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s office said there is no international travel ban in place and the advisory is meant only to help those who are vaccinated make informed decisions about their travel plans.
“This applies to MPs and all Canadians,” O’Toole’s communications director, Josie Sabatino, said in a statement. “As such, members of the Conservative caucus can continue to travel internationally.”
She pointed out that earlier this year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet travelled internationally at different times when a similar advisory was in place.
The different approaches federal parties are taking to travel amid the threat of the Omicron variant mirrors the varying positions they’ve taken on how the House of Commons should function amid the ongoing pandemic.
Conservatives, along with the Bloc Quebecois, were adamant that the House should fully return to normal in-person sittings, arguing that giving MPs the option to participate virtually would give ministers an excuse to dodge opposition scrutiny.
Liberals joined forces with New Democrats last month to resume the hybrid format. And, with the Omicron variant spreading like wildfire, both those parties began Wednesday to limit the number of their MPs in the Commons chamber, after holding entirely virtual caucus meetings.
Conservative and Bloc caucuses met in person. And the Conservative benches in the House were full Wednesday.
Outside of the Conservatives’ caucus meeting, Nova Scotia MP Dr. Stephen Ellis, whom O’Toole has picked to help develop the Tories’ response to the pandemic, argued that decisions being made to deal with Omicron are premature because the science about its virulence isn’t yet conclusive.
He suggested Canadians have to learn to live with COVID-19.
“Am I going to live the rest of my life like this?” Ellis said. “That’s the question.”