Public servants who can get vaccinated and choose not to will face “consequences” for their decision if the Liberals are returned to power, Justin Trudeau said Tuesday as the issue of vaccine mandates exploded on the campaign trail.
Just 24 hours earlier the Liberal leader had said his government was looking over how to implement an election-eve push to force federal workers to get their COVID-19 shots.
He stopped short at the time in saying whether anyone should be fired, as the New Democrats had suggested as the ultimate punishment for federal workers who opt not to be immunized.
During a campaign stop in Markham, Ont., Trudeau said a Liberal government would mete out “consequences” for unvaccinated public servants.
“The bottom line is, if anyone who doesn’t have a legitimate medical reason for not getting fully vaccinatedor chooses to not get vaccinated, there will be consequences,” Trudeau said.
What those consequences are, Trudeau didn’t say.
The latest federal figures show that 73 per cent of those 12 and up who are eligible are fully vaccinated. While the pace of second doses has declined over the past few weeks, emotions around the issue have risen along the campaign trail.
Trudeau was confronted by anti-mask protesters for the second day in a row Tuesday, this time during a whistle stop in Aurora, Ont.
“Are you here to unmask our children,” one of them yelled, as he walked down the street, encircled by a heavy police presence. Another yelled “you’re killing our children!”
Trudeau, wearing his usual black face mask, took a step toward the woman with the megaphone and yelled, “please get vaccinated.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, speaking in Toronto, said vaccines were critical, noting he publicly posted about getting his shot months after testing positive for COVID-19. He added that in some cases, rapid tests, masks and other measures could be used as protection against the virus and its variants.
“We need to get people vaccinated, but also have a plan in cases where they’re not,” O’Toole told reporters after outlining a pledge for a GST holiday to prod spending.
“Our plan is balanced, it’s reasonable and … before they pulled it off the internet, it seemed like it was actually what the civil service was recommending to the prime minister.”
The “it” was a note posted over the weekend by the government’s chief human resources officer that said alternative measures, like testing and screening, will need to be considered for public servants not wanting to get vaccinated. It was quickly pulled Monday night with the Treasury Board saying it contained erroneous information.
Despite Trudeau saying, the letter didn’t reflect his government’s policies, and pulled down by public servants, the Conservatives wrote to the clerk of Privy Council on Tuesday, asking for an investigation into what happened.
Rules during election periods, laid down from the clerk who heads the federal bureaucracy, are designed to prevent public servants from being pulled into the partisan fray.
In the letter to the clerk, the Conservatives charged the “caretaker convention” had been breached with the letter being suddenly dropped from the government’s website, and that a probe was necessary to find “the persons involved and the exact directions and communications in which those individuals engaged.”
The party asked for results before election day on Sept. 20.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he worried that the debate about vaccines in a hyper-partisan campaign environment, could politicize the issue of getting vaccinated — something which he, Trudeau and O’Toole agreed was necessary for ending the pandemic.
But he was also clear in his support for a vaccine mandate for federal workers who deliver services for Canadians, some of whom may not be able to be vaccinated for medical reasons.
“If someone doesn’t get vaccinated in places that we know it would put people at risk … then they would not be able to continue working in those places,” Singh said in Coquitlam, B.C., where he outlined his party’s proposal to create jobs.
“People have the choice not to get vaccinated, but it is essential that we set up every step possible to encourage people to be vaccinated.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents 215,000 federal public service workers, said in a news release Tuesday the political party leaders have made “concerning statements” about disciplining or terminating workers.
“PSAC has been in consultation with the federal government on its vaccination proposal, and our position is clear: employees with a valid medical reason for being unvaccinated, or for reasons protected by human rights legislation, must be offered a formal accommodation under the law.”
Mandatory vaccinations have become an early election issue as each party vies for votes, with new survey results suggesting that the Liberals held a five-point lead on the eve of the election call.
Thirty-five per cent of decided voters who took part in the survey expressed support for the Liberals, 30 per cent for the Conservatives and 20 per cent the NDP. Seven per cent would vote for the Bloc Québécois, which is fielding candidates only in Quebec, while five per cent supported the Greens and two per cent the People’s Party of Canada.
The online survey of 2,007 Canadians, conducted Aug. 13 to 15 by Leger in collaboration with The Canadian Press, cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered truly random samples.
— Jordan Press, The Canadian Press