The lesson is a good one, but let’s note the unusual thing about Justin Trudeau’s new vaccine mandate: The government is using its employees to set an example.
The Prime Minister is giving federal civil servants just over three weeks to get vaccinated or they will lose their paycheques.
This is a blunt move, with unusually tough consequences, a rule set in place to send the message that those who don’t get vaccinated are harming the country. And Ottawa is not alone sending that message: Vaccine mandates are now the accepted political norm in Canada. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia expanded their own restrictions on Wednesday.
Politicians are now increasingly keen to impose them, and they have no doubt about why: Patience with the unvaccinated is running low. The 80 per cent are annoyed.
Mr. Trudeau and his Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, repeatedly made that point Wednesday, when they unveiled new vaccines requirements for air and rail travel, as well as for public servants.
The PM said vaccinated Canadians “deserve the freedom to be safe from COVID-19.” Ms. Freeland, also the Finance Minister, said the government was acting on behalf of the majority, so “that a minority of people cannot sabotage Canada’s economic recovery.”
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, announcing his own vaccine requirements for civil servants – on top of mandates for the province’s teachers, health care workers, child-care workers and prison guards – put it to recalcitrant Nova Scotians pretty bluntly: “If you don’t want to do the things that keep us all safe, just stay home,” he said.
In a sense, Mr. Trudeau’s vaccine mandate suggests staying home is not good enough. Most federal civil servants are still working from home, with no date set for their return to the office, so many thousands are, at least for now, required to get vaccinated to work from home.
That means this vaccine requirement is not based on where these folks want to go, such as getting on a flight abroad or into a bar, or what service they will provide to the public. It is based solely on their employer. It is to make an example: the unvaccinated will face consequences.
That’s a message a lot of Canadians want to hear. Several opinion polls have found that a large majority supports vaccine requirements for public gatherings. But it’s more than that. A survey conducted in September by polling firm Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies found that 85 per cent of vaccinated Canadians hold negative views of unvaccinated Canadians.
And in this fourth wave, there is some anger that the unvaccinated are to blame, and will be to blame, for renewed restrictions or lockdowns.
The shame is that Mr. Trudeau, and most provincial premiers, came to vaccine mandates after months of moving too slowly to ramp up the idea that vaccination is the path out of lockdowns, travel restrictions and other impediments to freedom.
The federal government should have been warning Canadians in June that proof of vaccination was going to become an inevitable requirement for travel, both domestic and international. He only announced plans to require vaccinations among civil servants a few days before he triggered a federal election campaign, and all throughout he was unable to say what would happen to those who didn’t get the jab. It made Mr. Trudeau’s vaccine-mandate zeal seem more like a wedge issue than rallying the country.
Practical concerns were dealt with too slowly, too. Many premiers, guarding their jurisdiction over health care info, were reluctant to take part in a national proof-of-vaccination app, and Mr. Trudeau was unwilling to raise it as an issue of national interest – although Ottawa is now working on standardized proof for international travel.
Despite that, the politics are now quite clearly on Mr. Trudeau’s side. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who took a few lumps during the election campaign for squidgy support for vaccination mandates, is on the wrong side of an issue that is getting harder for him.
It isn’t just about mandates, now adopted in some form by all of Canada’s right-of-centre or Progressive Conservative premiers.
Mr. O’Toole still won’t say Conservative MPs will all be vaccinated, presumably because some portion of his caucus is among the 18 per cent of eligible Canadians who are not fully vaccinated. They’re among the minority group that most Canadians see in a negative light.
And the majority of Canadians want to see their leaders set an example.
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