Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government is planning to implement a proof-of-vaccination system that people will be required to use in order to access some non-essential services in the province, sources tell The Globe and Mail.
The reversal from Mr. Ford, who has previously rejected the idea of a vaccine passport for Ontario, came hours after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised on the federal campaign trail to create a $1-billion fund that provinces and territories could tap into to set up proof-of-vaccination programs.
The details of Ontario’s vaccine certificate are still being worked out. They are expected to be announced early next week, according to two sources with knowledge of the deliberations. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources, because they are not authorized to speak publicly on this matter.
One source said the system would be similar to the vaccine passport regimes already announced by British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec, which require proof of vaccination to enter certain non-essential businesses, such as restaurants or gyms, or to attend events. Mr. Ford changed his mind on vaccine passports because he wants to do everything he can to avoid closing businesses during the fourth wave of the pandemic, the source said.
Mr. Trudeau said Friday that, if re-elected, his government would use the fund to pay for any costs associated with the design and rollout of provincial proof-of-vaccine credentials.
“A vaccine mandate for non-essential businesses is a good idea. It keeps people safe. It encourages everyone to do the right thing. It keeps our businesses open. And it keeps our economy rebuilding,” Mr. Trudeau said at a restaurant in Mississauga, Ont., where he was making the announcement.
Vaccinations have been a key political issue in the federal election campaign so far. Mr. Trudeau has proposed vaccine mandates for federal workers and travellers, although he has not explained the exact details of how they would work or what the consequences would be for those who choose to remain unvaccinated. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole does not support mandatory vaccination requirements, and has said unvaccinated federal employees or travellers should be able to take rapid tests, or provide evidence of recent negative tests, instead.
Mr. Trudeau took specific aim at Mr. Ford, urging him to take up vaccine passports and arguing there will be economic consequences if he doesn’t.
“I certainly hope that here in Ontario, Premier Ford steps up as well,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Mr. Ford has been under increasing pressure from medical experts, business groups and local public-health units to create a vaccine passport for Ontario. Many businesses have already come up with their own vaccine requirements for customers.
In response to Mr. Trudeau’s remarks, Mr. Ford’s spokesperson Ivana Yelich said Ontario has put forward “the most cautious reopening plan” in Canada, which includes some of the highest vaccination thresholds in the country and requires masking in indoor public spaces, as well as capacity limits and physical distancing.
Jerrica Goodwin, a spokesperson for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, said the province is not planning to implement a vaccine passport, but that business owners may require customers to prove their vaccination status. Ms. Goodwin said the province is working to allow people to view and print their vaccination records in convenient ways.
Mr. Trudeau held his Friday event at Nafisa, a Syrian restaurant in Peel Region. While people standing in front of the television cameras were distanced, reporters and party staff in the room were standing in very close proximity in the small space. At least 35 people were in the room.
When asked if he was breaking the spirit or the letter of the law at his event, Mr. Trudeau said that the Liberals always follow public-health guidance. Peel Public Health declined to comment on whether the event followed public-health rules and said it has not launched an investigation. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, said it’s up to event organizers to adhere to all applicable laws.
While the Liberals have said all of their candidates are required to be vaccinated, Mr. Trudeau said on Friday that there are “a couple” of candidates who have not yet had their second shots, but are booked to receive them. The party did not respond to follow-up questions about which candidates are not fully vaccinated.
Mr. O’Toole said on Friday that he would leave decisions about vaccine passports up to the provinces.
“As a federal partner we will respect the provinces and their decisions with respect to health measures, with respect to balancing the needs of keeping people safe and keeping the economy going. And if the provinces make decisions on vaccinations, vaccine passports, we will support and respect what the provinces decide to do,” Mr. O’Toole said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who announced on Friday a plan to eliminate prescription drug costs, said that Ottawa should create a national vaccine passport that could be used across the country.
“I think the federal government should just do it,” he said in Thunder Bay. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just have one central document?”
Mr. O’Toole started his day in Corner Brook, N.L., where he rolled out policies focused on labour and workers’ rights.
He has made that policy area the focus of his announcements this week. On Friday, he promised that a Conservative government would extend Employment Insurance sickness coverage from 26 weeks to as long as 52 weeks for people with serious illnesses such as cancer.
The Liberals also said Friday that, if re-elected, the party would look to procure doses of second-generation COVID-19 vaccines and would offer free booster shots. The World Health Organization recently called for a two-month moratorium on booster shots in order to redirect vaccines to poorer countries.
And the Liberals also promised $100-million to study “long COVID” – a term for when a person’s COVID-19 symptoms appear to last for months or longer – including its effects on vulnerable populations and children.
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