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Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath now says she supports mandatory vaccinations for health and education workers, just a day after she said such a policy would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in comments that enraged some supporters and seized on by her opponents.

Ms. Horwath released a videotaped statement on Thursday afternoon saying she now backs mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health and education workers – and that her comments about Charter rights were wrong.

“On Wednesday, I made a mistake suggesting a mandatory vaccine policy during a global pandemic should take a back seat to Charter rights,” Ms. Horwath said. “I regret the comment. I was wrong.”

In an appearance on CBC’s Power and Politics TV show on Wednesday, Ms. Horwath took aim at Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who has called for mandatory vaccinations for health and education workers.

“Unlike Mr. Del Duca, I don’t take lightly people’s Charter rights,” Ms. Horwath said.

She had earlier that day announced her party’s own policy, which is similar to the plans unveiled by Toronto’s University Health Network of hospitals: Instead of mandating vaccinations, unvaccinated workers would be required to take regular rapid COVID-19 tests when going to work. Vaccinations for all workers would still be strongly encouraged.

For several days, Mr. Del Duca – who must duel with Ms. Horwath to convince voters he is the best alternative to PC Premier Doug Ford in next June’s election – has crowed that his party is the only one calling for mandatory vaccinations for health and education workers. But he says he would not fire anyone who refuses a jab, instead suggesting they could be redeployed to duties that did not involve students or patients.

In an online media conference Thursday morning, Mr. Del Duca said he was disappointed at the “sorry spectacle of witnessing Andrea Horwath and the NDP team up with Doug Ford and the Conservatives to try to appease that anti-vaxxer element that we have in this society of ours.”

It was unclear just what prompted Ms. Horwath to raise the issue of Charter rights with regard to vaccinations on Wednesday. Several unions, including the province’s largest high-school teachers union, while in favour of vaccinations, have also opposed allowing employers to mandate them for employees. (Ms. Horwath unveiled the former head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, Harvey Bischof, as an NDP candidate this week.)

The Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario have both called for mandatory vaccinations for health workers.

Mr. Ford’s government has said repeatedly it would not make the vaccine mandatory – while encouraging everyone to get one.

In her statement Thursday, Ms. Horwath appeared to suggest that this new position on mandatory vaccinations was her stand all along.

“I fully support mandatory vaccination in health care and education, based on science and public health priorities. I should have made that position clearer, much earlier,” Ms. Horwath said.

Among the NDP voices who spoke out against Ms. Horwath’s Wednesday comments was federal Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus, who warned in a now-deleted tweet that the Liberals would “drive a truck over our party for such idiocy.”

The Premier’s Office had little to say about Ms. Horwath’s about-face, but took aim at the Liberal Leader’s stance.

“The Premier has been clear that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and he continues to encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Ivana Yelich, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, said in an e-mail. “No matter how many times Mr. Del Duca says it, his policy does not mandate vaccines.”

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