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Trudeau, Blanchet talk vaccination, provincial health summit ahead of Nov. 22 return


OTTAWA — A month before returning to the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet agree on one at least one thing: those present will need to be fully vaccinated.

Following a conversation described as "cordial and constructive" according to Trudeau's office on Tuesday, Blanchet said a parliamentary body — the Board of Internal Economy — could impose the vaccination of members.

"My impression is that the Board of Internal Economy has such authority, and my intuition is: We're going ahead, we're doing it. If there are those who want to challenge it, well they'll challenge," Blanchet said in a telephone interview.

Trudeau is slated to have conversations with opposition leaders this week ahead of Nov. 22, when sittings resume. Elected officials have to decide whether they will return to the hybrid sittings common during the pandemic or return to in-person sittings.

Thus far, the Bloc and the Conservatives have called for an in-person return, while the New Democrats prefer keeping the hybrid system. The Liberals have not made their intentions clear, but Trudeau has said he wants all elected officials to be vaccinated.

The Bloc, Liberals and NDP have required all their MPs without a valid medical exemption to be fully vaccinated.

At last count among Conservative MPs, 79 of 119 have confirmed they are fully vaccinated to The Canadian Press, including 10 members from Quebec. Of the other 40, two have refused to disclose their status on principle and 38 others have not responded.

Trudeau is expected to speak to Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh separately on Wednesday, according to his agenda. He will also speak to the parliamentary leader of the Greens, Elizabeth May.

“The Conservatives will have to take responsibility,” Blanchet said. "We are not going to start solving the Conservatives' problems for the Conservatives."

Among the other items discussed, the Bloc leader said he suggested Trudeau expand a promised federal-provincial meeting on health transfers to make it a summit on the financing of health care.

Blanchet said the Bloc proposal calls for a summit before the end of the year that would bring together all of the premiers and provincial health ministers as well as opposition parties.

Trudeau's reaction to the idea? "He took note of it," Blanchet said, but there was no mention in a readout of their meeting provided by the PMO.

Trudeau said he discussed tackling climate change with the Bloc leader and Blanchet said he believed the two parties can find common ground on the topic.

“I don't know Mr. Trudeau's long-term plans, but he might want to have a meaningful mandate on the environment and climate change," Blanchet said. "If this is really his will, we will be able to talk to each other."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.

Lina Dib, The Canadian Press