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Poilievre-backed anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate bill fails to pass House

A Pierre Poilievre-backed bill pushing to prohibit the federal government from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates on public servants or restricting unvaccinated Canadian travellers from boarding has died in the House of Commons after failing to pass a key first vote.

The proposed five-page piece of legislation was defeated at second reading by a vote of 205 to 114 on Wednesday, with the Conservatives the only party to support it. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cast his virtually: "nay."

The private members' bill — C-278, the Prevention of Government-imposed Vaccination Mandates Act — was first presented by Poilievre when he was running for Conservative leader. Due to overlap with an initiate of his own, anti-mandate, "Freedom Convoy" advocate and Ontario Conservative MP Dean Allison picked up Poilievre's proposal and became its sponsor.

Poilievre spoke to the bill when it came up for debate on Tuesday night, imploring his colleagues to pass the bill. Now more than a year into his role at the helm of the Conservative party, Poilievre revived the anti-mandate messaging that he kicked off his leadership bid championing.

In his speech, Poilievre said he was proud to introduce this bill and accused Trudeau of dividing Canadians over a stance he said the majority of provincial governments, as well as the military review complaints commission, are now aligned with the Conservatives on. 

Vaccine mandates became a key wedge issue in the 2021 federal election, seeing the Liberals contrast their plan to impose federal inoculation rules against Poilievre's predecessor Erin O'Toole's opposition to them. The policy was rolled out in October 2021 and then rolled back in June 2022, seeing unvaccinated workers who were put on leave able to resume their duties.

"The Prime Minister has withdrawn and apologized for some of the extremely he made about Canadians who made different medical decisions than he would have made," Poilievre said.

"Adopting this bill would be a recognition that this ugly chapter in our history of turning Canadian against Canadian and using a public health matter to pull apart our country and grab more power is permanently behind us."

Speaking after Poilievre, NDP MP and health critic Don Davies accused the Conservatives of pontificating, pretending and politicizing the issue, while advocating for there being a persisting need for a full public inquiry into Canada's pandemic response.

Other MPs opposed to the bill pointed to how 54,000 Canadians have died of COVID-19 and accused the Conservatives of trying to sympathize with pandemic deniers and rally the support of the trucker convoy participants who blockaded international borders and occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks last winter. 

Asked what she made of the fact that the Official Opposition was still talking about COVID-19 vaccine mandates this far out from them being lifted, Liberal House Leader Karina Gould said Wednesday she thinks the Conservatives are "out of touch" and "riling up people" when there are more pressing priorities to focus on.

"I think most Canadians recognize how difficult a time that was," Gould said. "And how … important and safe vaccines were," Gould said.