COBOURG, ONT. — It’s early days in the 2021 federal election campaign, but already mandatory vaccinations are shaping up to be a key wedge issue, with the parties sniping at each other over their positions.
The policy is seen by many medical professionals as a potential way to incentivise those who are hesitant, boost immunization rates, and ideally help steer the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic faster.
Here is where the parties stand on vaccine mandates for federal workers and federally-regulated sectors.
After suggesting vaccine mandates could be more divisive than effective and just days before the federal election was called, the governing Liberals announced that it would be making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for federal public service workers as well as those in the federally-regulated transportation sector.
Their policy would also apply to any commercial air, interprovincial train and cruise-ship passengers, with a deadline of October.
The Liberals said they expected that with the policy, Crown corporations and federally regulated agencies such as the Bank of Canada and Canada Post would follow suit.
Asked on Monday where things stand with this plan, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told reporters that federal government is working with unions to develop criteria, and exemption criteria would be in place in instances where workers cannot be, or choose not to be immunized. That’s a key part of their proposal that has yet to be articulated, though it’s expected to include testing or other screening measures.
Trudeau seemingly set up the wedge in his election-launch speech, framing it as a policy that Canadians should have a say on at the ballot box, and brushing off the suggestion it’s as one outgoing Conservative MP put it: “tyrannical.”
Then he doubled down on the first full day on the trail, taking aim at his opponents for their stances and suggesting that the example of a mandate for federal workers could set the standard for businesses looking to encourage their employees to be vaccinated.
After dodging questions about how a Conservative government would approach the vaccine mandate issue for federal workers, late on Sunday night O’Toole’s office issued a statement announcing that if elected, the Conservatives would take an “alternative” approach to mandatory vaccines.
Specifically, the Conservatives would require unvaccinated Canadian passengers to present a recent negative test result or pass a rapid test before getting on a bus, train, plane, or ship. O’Toole would also require federal public servants who aren’t vaccinated to pass a daily rapid test.
“We do feel that Canadians have the right to make their own health-care decisions and we encourage people to get vaccinated, but we also have to make sure we have the tools to protect all Canadians from some people that will not be vaccinated,” O’Toole said Monday.
He also launched into Trudeau for politicizing vaccines, calling it “dangerous and irresponsible,” with his team also suggesting that what O’Toole proposed is in line with Trudeau’s plan.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had been asked for his position in advance of the election and had offered general comments about the needs for unions to be consulted, but it wasn’t until Monday that his team came forward with their stance.
The NDP agree with the Liberal’s proposed vaccine mandate for federal workers, but called on them to have the system—as well as the promised international travel-focused vaccine passport— in place by early September.
This would mean public servants would have to be fully vaccinated by Labour Day and the government should offer paid leave for workers to go get their shots. Singh suggested as well that Canadians should be able to use the passport in domestic situations as well.
“Canadian families should be able to access vaccine passports as easily as possible. And they should be able to use them here at home – not just when travelling internationally,” Singh said.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul was asked her position on the federal public service vaccine mandate on Monday and she said it was something the party is “considering very seriously.”
Paul said she is keen to see the government’s plan and how it intends to handle those who have legitimate reasons to not roll up their sleeves, citing religious or cultural reasons as examples.
She also criticized the Liberal plan for being one “thrown out there” just before the election.
With files from CTV News’ Sarah Turnbull and Shannon Lindores.