The Conservative Party motion to lift travel restrictions on May 30 was soundly defeated by all other parties in the House of Commons, but two Liberal MPs dissented.
Quebec City MP Joël Lightbound voted in favour of the motion, in line with his stance on COVID-19 restrictions he had expressed in a press conference in February.
Lightbound had then spoken at length about the harms he said were being caused by lockdowns and the divisive politics of his party over vaccination status.
Another Liberal MP didn’t vote in favour of the Tory motion and instead abstained.
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who represents a Toronto riding, explained his rationale for abstaining in a lengthy Twitter thread on May 31.
He said he couldn’t vote in favour of the motion as he didn’t support the dropping of the mask mandate in airplanes but that other measures such as vaccine mandates were “no longer justified.”
The obligation to wear masks in Canada has been abolished in almost every setting, with some jurisdictions keeping them mandatory in public transport or health care facilities.
“I didn’t support the idea of dropping masks right away, but I’ve also made it clear to the government that a two-dose vaccine mandate without accommodation is no longer justified,” Erskine-Smith said.
Erskine-Smith also echoed the criticism the Conservatives have been levelling against the government regarding transparency around what science or metrics are being used to justify keeping the mandates.
Erskine-Smith referred to a statement by chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam who said months ago that the mandates were under review.
“Nothing about the re-evaluation of travel-related measures has been transparent. It is not clear what Dr. Tam’s recommendations are, and there’s been no adequate justification provided for continuing the exclusive two-dose mandate,” he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada announced on May 31 that the current border measures for travellers entering Canada were being extended until at least June 30.
Erskine-Smith said he has supported the two-dose vaccine mandate for travel and also recommended a three-dose mandate, with accommodation via rapid testing, but that mandates have outrun their usefulness in driving uptake and preventing transmission.
The Toronto MP also mentioned accounts from his constituents, one of which declined a second vaccine dose due to suffering partial facial paralysis after receiving her first dose, and another whose mother in Russia holding a valid visa cannot visit her because the vaccine she received isn’t recognized by Health Canada.
Erskine-Smith said these individuals shouldn’t be prevented from travelling.
“There are many stories and contexts, but the core point is that a two-dose mandate no longer makes any sense,” he wrote.
The MP also addressed airport delays which he said are “unacceptable.”
“If measures don’t accomplish any public good and they contribute to delays, then there’s good reason to eliminate them.”
The two dissenting Liberal MPs do not currently have cabinet roles.
When Lightbound broke rank in February to criticize the government’s pandemic approach, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said he had a great amount of respect for his colleague and regularly discussed pandemic management with him.
Ottawa has been slow to lift measures compared to other jurisdictions in the country, taking a more incremental approach.
Meanwhile, the start of the tourism season combined with the easing of other restrictions has increased air travel and put into focus the burden of federal rules.
The International Air Transport Association, a trade group representing most of the world airlines, wrote to Ottawa on May 24 to address airport wait times.
Three days later Transport Canada released a statement to highlight what measures it was taking to deal with the bottlenecks, such as improving screening procedures and hiring more staff.