The Ontario government is expected to announce a vaccine certification system as early as this week after sources say Premier Doug Ford rejected an initial plan amid mounting pressure from medical experts, business groups and political opponents.
The province’s Progressive Conservative government had been aiming to announce a new system on Tuesday. But two sources with knowledge of the government’s decision-making said that on Monday Mr. Ford and some of his senior advisers rejected the proposal that was to be put before his cabinet as overly broad and sent officials back to the drawing board. Cabinet met again Tuesday to discuss a modified plan. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources as they were not authorized to speak publicly about cabinet deliberations.
For weeks there have been calls for Ontario to implement a vaccine certificate system that would require proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses, such as restaurants or gyms – similar to systems announced in Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec.
Ivana Yelich, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, said the details of the plan would be provided when it is announced.
Mr. Ford has previously spoken out against the idea of vaccine passports, warning in July the concept would create a “split society.” But in recent days, he reversed his position as the pandemic’s fourth wave continued. Last week, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged on the election campaign trail to create a $1-billion fund for provinces to set up proof-of-vaccination programs.
On Tuesday, the federal Liberals again raised the issue and mentioned Mr. Ford by name. Ottawa-Centre federal Liberal candidate Yasir Naqvi, a former Ontario attorney-general, issued a statement linking the Premier’s reluctance to implement a vaccine passport to federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s opposition to mandatory vaccinations for air and rail travellers.
“Now is the time to give hope to all Ontarians that we will get through this. Premier Ford, please listen, show leadership, and bring in a vaccine passport now,” Mr. Naqvi’s statement reads.
With Ontario’s cabinet debating the plans on Tuesday, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore cancelled his weekly COVID-19 media briefing, where he would have been peppered with questions about the unrevealed proposal.
“In light of the government’s ongoing work on a proof of vaccination certificate, Dr. Moore’s regularly scheduled briefing is not proceeding today at his request,” Alexandra Hilkene, a spokeswoman for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said in an e-mail.
Rocco Rossi, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, praised the move toward a vaccine passport, saying a lack of guidance forces businesses to make up and enforce their own rules, disproportionately affecting already-struggling small businesses.
Quebec’s system, which comes into effect Wednesday with a two-week grace period, will allow residents to use a paper print out, a digital PDF file or a smartphone app that display a scannable QR code. Users will also have to show photo ID.
Ontario’s opposition leaders accused Mr. Ford of needlessly delaying action.
“It begs the question, who is it that Doug Ford is listening to, or worried about? We know that his team has a number of folks who are anti-public health, who are anti-science,” Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said, citing the government’s prepandemic plans to cut public-health funding.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the government should never have left the question of a proof-of-vaccination system until just days before schools and universities reopen.
“When you fail to prepare, you’d better be prepared to fail,” Mr. Del Duca said in statement.
As long ago as last December, the Ontario government had drawn up plans to issue digital “immunity certificates” to people as they received their COVID-19 vaccinations, using a QR code that could be stored on their smartphone and potentially checked by long-term care home attendants, employers or airline staff. But in April, the Premier’s office said no decision had been made to go ahead with those plans.
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