The NDP say federal civil servants who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 should face the possibility of discipline or even be fired – as the Liberals decline to explain how their vaccine mandate would be enforced and a memo that suggested people wouldn’t be forced to get their shots was removed from the government’s website.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has made his party’s proposed vaccine mandate a key issue in the federal election campaign, but on Monday he was unable to disclose the details of the plan or when it will be implemented. The policy was announced by the government two days before Mr. Trudeau called a snap election on Sunday. It would apply to federal civil servants, federally regulated industries, and domestic air travel and inter-provincial rail, bus and cruise passengers.
In an exclusive comment provided to The Globe and Mail, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said a vaccine mandate should be backed up with consequences and in rare cases employees who refuse to be vaccinated should be disciplined under their respective collective agreements.
“We have to be clear that the health and safety of Canadians must come first,” Mr. Singh said in an emailed statement. “To get as many people vaccinated as possible, we need to back up the commitment with actions,” he added, saying an NDP government would work with the public sector unions to give more education on the shots and remove barriers to vaccination.
“For employees who still refuse to be vaccinated, without a reason related to health status, we would expect that the collective agreement would be followed,” Mr. Singh said. “All collective agreements include a process for progressive discipline – up to and including termination. Discipline should always be a last resort, but may be necessary in rare cases to protect the health and safety of Canadians”
Since their Friday announcement, the Liberals have been asked repeatedly whether civil servants who refuse the vaccine (and don’t have a medical exception) will be fired. On Monday, Mr. Trudeau said the Liberals will work on that question with public service unions.
“The goal is not to punish people who don’t want to get vaccinated but it is to protect Canadians from being infected by people who are unvaccinated,” Mr. Trudeau said at his first campaign stop of the day in Longueuil, Que.
The Liberal Leader also didn’t specify when the plan would be implemented. On Friday the government said it was targeting “early this fall.” Earlier on Monday Mr. Singh said the government should put the plan in place by Labour Day to ensure as much protection as possible for children returning to school in September.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole repeatedly dodged questions Sunday about his party’s position on the vaccine mandate. Then just after 10 p.m. on Sunday his party released a statement saying a Conservative government would not implement a mandate and would instead require unvaccinated civil servants to take a daily COVID-19 rapid test.
“Canadians have the right to make their own health care decisions,” Mr. O’Toole said at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday.
It briefly appeared that the federal Liberal government’s position was similar. In a Friday memo to deputy ministers, Christine Donoghue, the chief human resources officer of Canada said the government would consider alternatives for people who refuse vaccination, “such as testing and screening.”
That official government statement showed there was no material difference between the Liberal and Conservative policies, Conservative MP and candidate Michael Barett said in a statement on Monday.
Within hours of the Conservatives pointing out that federal policy the government had deleted it from its website.
“The language in the message posted late Friday afternoon was inaccurate, and the message has been taken down to avoid confusion.,” said Treasury Board spokeswoman Geneviève Sicard.
In response to the federal memo, spokesperson Alex Wellstead said under a re-elected Liberal government “vaccines will be mandatory.”
“The only exemptions will be for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Mr. Wellstead said.
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