Premier Doug Ford has expelled Rick Nicholls hfrom the Progressive Conservative caucus after the MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington announced he would not be getting the COVID-19 vaccine for personal reasons.
Ford said Nicholls also won’t be permitted to seek re-election as a Tory candidate after he “failed to provide a legitimate reason” for not getting vaccinated.
Ford defended the party’s decision to oust Rick Nicholls, saying elected officials must “lead by example” on vaccination.
“It is my expectation that every PC caucus member and candidate not only support the role vaccines play in the fight against COVID-19, but also be vaccinated to protect themselves and the people in their community,” Ford said in a statement.
He wrote that elected officials “must rightfully be held to a higher standard,” adding their work puts them in regular interaction with the public and those vulnerable to the virus.
#BREAKING – Premier Ford:
"MPP Rick Nicholls has failed to provide a legitimate reason for exemption from vaccination. As a consequence, he is no longer a sitting member of the PC caucus and will not be permitted to seek re-election as a PC candidate."
— Richard Southern (@richard680news) August 19, 2021
The premier also confirmed Scarborough Center MPP Christina Mitas has received a medical exemption with a doctor’s note from getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and will remain in caucus. He added Mitas has made assurances she will take “extra precautions while carrying out her duties as an elected official. His office did not provide details on what medical exemptions to vaccination were considered acceptable for caucus members.
Earlier in the day, Nicholls said both he and his wife would not be getting the COVID-19 vaccine because of concerns surrounding the shot, saying they have done their own research.
“What will we be experiencing in the long haul, other health issues? That is undetermined. People call it a vaccine and I call it an experimental drug,” said Nicholls in an interview with CityNews.
Ford, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has urged all Ontario residents to get immunized, has previously said he wouldn’t make the vaccine mandatory, because he considers it a constitutional right not to take the shots.
Nicholls said he “took the premier at his word that vaccination is a choice and that all Ontarians have a constitutional right to make such a choice.” He said he raised his concerns about the policy with Ford.
“I voiced my concerns about the policy privately to the Premier into the Ontario PC caucus, but under no circumstances will I, nor should any Ontarian be forced or coerced to do something against their will.”
Nicholls left the news conference after taking one question from the media, confirming he would be sitting as an independent. It’s unclear whether he will remain as Deputy Speaker.
This is not the first time Nicholls has courted controversy.
In 2015, he raised eyebrows when he said that opting out of teaching evolution in schools was “not a bad idea.”
“For myself, I don’t believe in evolution,” he told reporters. “But that doesn’t mean I speak for everyone else in my caucus. That’s a personal stance.”
The Premier has not been shy about booting members from the caucus in the past for defying or disagreeing with party policy. MPP Roman Baber was the latest to get expelled this past January when he criticized the premier’s lockdown measures.
The question of MPP’s vaccination status came to light after media reports indicated that most all opposition members had been vaccinated, but few conservative MPPs had revealed their status.
On Tuesday, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health directed healthcare and education providers to undergo regular COVID-19 testing if they haven’t received a vaccine.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed out what she felt was a contradiction in Ford’s messaging.
“On the one hand PC MPP have to get vaccinated, on the other hand those working with the most vulnerable don’t have to be,” she told 680 NEWS.
Statement from 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. That especially includes our frontline health care workers, first responders, essential workers, small business owners, seniors, students, and the many, many others who have faced extraordinary measures over the last 16 months.
It also includes our elected officials, who we all expect to lead by example, and who must rightfully be held to a higher standard. The very nature of their work requires political leaders to interact daily with members of the public, including those most vulnerable to COVID-19. It is my expectation that every PC caucus member and candidate not only support the role vaccines play in the fight against COVID-19, but also be vaccinated to protect themselves and the people in their community.
MPP Rick Nicholls has failed to provide a legitimate reason for exemption from vaccination. As a consequence, he is no longer a sitting member of the PC caucus and will not be permitted to seek re-election as a PC candidate.
MPP Christina 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.
I’m once again asking every single eligible Ontarian who has not yet received a vaccine to please get vaccinated now. Vaccines are safe, they are effective, and they continue to be our best defence against COVID-19.”