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Ford removes one MPP from Tory caucus for not getting vaccinated, but allows another to stay because she has a ‘medical exemption’


Ford removes one MPP from Tory caucus for not getting vaccinated, but allows another to stay because she has a ‘medical exemption’

No jab, no job — unless you have a doctor’s note.

Premier Doug Ford has dismissed a veteran Progressive Conservative MPP from his caucus after he refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Another MPP, who also declined to get her shot, has been allowed to remain on the government benches after she obtained a “medical exemption” from her physician.

MPP Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Leamington), a social conservative, will now sit as an Independent.

MPP Christina Mitas (Scarborough Centre) was granted a reprieve because of an undisclosed medical condition.

“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 Thursday.

“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,” the premier said.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Before the axe fell, Nicholls, who now faces removal as deputy speaker after the legislature resumes on Sept. 13, met with reporters at Queen’s Park.

“Like almost two million eligible Ontarians. I choose to exercise this autonomy over my own body,” the 10-year MPP said, fighting back tears.

“Under no circumstances will I — nor should any Ontarian be forced or coerced to — do something against their will,” he said.

In an interview with the Star, Nicholls, who made headlines in 2015 for saying he does not believe in evolution, explained his reasons.

“I don’t want to be a sheep. My wife and I do not want to put an experimental drug into our bodies at this time,” he said of vaccines fully approved by Health Canada and dispensed to more than two billion people around the world.

Last week, Ford personally reached out to him.

“He called me and said: ‘Rick, I need you to do me a favour. I need you to get vaccinated. I want you to think it over,’” said Nicholls, whose doctor advised him there was no medical reason to not get vaccinated.

But he said he knew his fate was sealed after a “demeaning” conversation Monday with Tory re-election campaign manager Kory Teneycke, who was insistent on vaccinations.

Still, asked if he would seek re-election as an Independent next June 2, Nicholls said: “A lot can happen between now and then.”

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“When I walk across the aisle I’m going to leave some bread crumbs so I can find my way back to caucus if they’ll have me.”

Mitas, who did not return repeated calls and texts over the past two days, posted a photo of herself on Twitter.

The first-term MPP is pregnant with her third child since being elected in 2018.

It was unclear what her medical exemption was because doctors encourage pregnant patients to get vaccinated.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said “the most important thing is that every MPP in the Legislative Assembly gets vaccinated.”

“It’s important to lead by example. It’s really … shameful that these two MPPs have not done the right thing here and I’m grateful that the rest of the MPPs on all sides of the chamber have done so,” said Horwath.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca was the first to call for mandatory vaccinations for MPPs.

Ford had warned his caucus there would be severe “consequences” for not getting their shots.

Lorne Coe, the chief government whip, gave Nicholls and Mitas until 5 p.m. Thursday to provide their “proof of vaccination or a statement of medical exemption signed by a physician or registered nurse.”

“The safety and efficacy of vaccines has never been clearer,” Coe told Mitas and Nicholls in his memo.

“As an elected official and member of the PC caucus, it is our responsibility to show leadership in our province and ensure every eligible Ontarian … can receive a vaccine,” he wrote.

“This includes every member of our caucus.”

Nicholls is the third Tory MPP ejected by Ford over pandemic policy differences.

In February, MPP Roman Baber (York Centre) was turfed from the PC caucus for writing an open letter to the premier warning that pandemic lockdowns were taking a toll on mental health.

Last July, MPP Belinda Karahalios was kicked out for voting against Tory legislation expanding the government’s emergency authority during the pandemic.

All PC candidates in the June 2, 2022 provincial election will have to be vaccinated, the premier said.

There are now 70 Tories in the 124-member legislature, 40 New Democrats, seven Liberals, six Independents, and one vacancy.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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