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A woman looks at the Quebec government’s new COVID-19 vaccine passport called VaxiCode on a phone in Montreal on Aug. 25, 2021.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

On Aug. 11, just four days before it called a snap election, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau announced that Ottawa would provide Canadians with proof-of-vaccination documentation for international travel by early fall.

The idea of a federal vaccine passport was warmly greeted by the premiers, according to Dominic LeBlanc, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. In his words, their reaction was “extraordinarily encouraging and positive.”

So where is the plan currently at, now that Mr. Trudeau has put the government of Canada on hold until some time after the Sept. 20 election?

It’s an important question, because the need for Canadians to get vaccinated – and to prove they’ve done so – is more pressing every day, as the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic picks up speed.

Cases, deaths and hospitalizations have risen steadily across the country since mid-July, when many restrictions were loosened by the provinces. At the same time, the vaccination rollout has stalled.

To date, 76 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and up are fully vaccinated. That’s good, but research and experience suggest it’s not enough to slow the fourth wave. This page has long urged Canada to shoot for at least 90 per cent immunization.

At the current rate of vaccination, that won’t happen for months, or ever. Where back in late July more than 450,000 Canadians were getting vaccinated each day, the pace has fallen to fewer than 100,000.

British Columbia saw the light this week. Faced with rising infections and flat-lining vaccinations, it followed the leads of Quebec and Manitoba and announced that residents will need a “vaccine card” showing (in B.C.’s case) that they are partly inoculated by Sept. 13 in order to enter movie theatres, restaurants, bars, gyms, concert venues and sports arenas, and fully inoculated after Oct. 24.

As in Quebec and Manitoba, the cards are backed by public-health mandates for their use in non-essential businesses. Among the aims is spurring laggards to get their shots.

Many provinces, though, are refusing to issue vaccine cards, or mandates for their use. Among them are Alberta and Saskatchewan, with the country’s lowest vaccination rates, and Ontario.

They are doing so out of misguided worries about privacy, or a fear of offending a tiny minority of anti-vaccine voters.

But these provinces are on board with Ottawa creating a vaccine passport for international travel. Their worries seem to fade if someone else is doing the heavy lifting; Ontario’s Doug Ford government has said it would support local organizations using an eventual federal passport, even as local health officials push it to bring in an Ontario version.

In the meantime, more and more retail businesses, corporations, pro sports teams and universities are demanding proof of vaccination – for employees returning to the workplace, for students, and for people attending everything from bars to NHL games.

The growing list includes all the major banks, Rogers, Air Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Edmonton Oilers, the Toronto Blue Jays, the University of Alberta, Carleton University and the University of Toronto.

Plus, Canadians travelling domestically are going to need portable, credible proof of vaccination if they want to eat in a restaurant in provinces such as B.C. and Quebec, or get on a plane to travel there (or anywhere else).

Which takes us back to Ottawa’s promise of a national vaccine passport. It’s needed now, not months from now. Fortunately, Ottawa doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. An off-the-shelf solution exists.

Digital security experts say Quebec’s smartphone app, VaxiCode, which became available this week, protects privacy and should be a model for others. We agree. The country’s caretaker government could adopt it as a single electronic wallet for all vaccine cards.

The provinces appear to be willing to co-operate. In B.C., Premier John Horgan said his province’s vaccine card is just an interim measure until a federal version arrives. The Ford government long ago dug in its heels, but also made it clear that it would be happy if Ottawa rescued it from the corner it painted itself into. And as for Quebec, it would surely be pleased to see its model chosen as the national standard.

What is Ottawa waiting for?

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