The Liberal platform had thousands of words and hundreds of promises to spend $78-billion, but at the press conference to unveil it, Justin Trudeau kept talking about a single paragraph tucked away on Page 51.
That’s the passage that outlines the Liberals’ promise of protection from lawsuits for companies that require their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
It’s the next step in Mr. Trudeau’s increasingly strident support for vaccination requirements: promising federal protection to companies that demand their employees get the jab. “Making sure workplaces can keep themselves and their employees safe,” in the Liberal Leader’s words.
And Mr. Trudeau raised it three times in his news conference – although no one asked – because he is hammering in the vaccine wedge harder and harder every day.
Never mind that the Liberals aren’t entirely sure how they would do it. It doesn’t seem to be federal jurisdiction. Mr. Trudeau wants to tell voters he’s going to help businesses require employees to get vaccinated.
The Liberal Leader started the campaign using vaccination requirements as a wedge issue, pointing to his newly adopted plan to require proof of vaccination for air and rail travel, and for federal public servants. But it seemed to peter out after a few days; Mr. Trudeau couldn’t explain what would happen to civil servants who didn’t get vaccinated.
Now he’s bringing it back with an edge. He’s been whetting the blade all week.
When angry protestors forced the Liberals to cancel his campaign event last Friday in Bolton, Ont., Mr. Trudeau took them to task for unacceptable behaviour, but also suggested they’d had a hard pandemic year. But on Sunday, as protesters surrounded his event in Cambridge, Ont., he started using them as a political foil, saying he wouldn’t back down.
By Tuesday, as anti-vaccine demonstrators shouted while he spoke in Sudbury, Mr. Trudeau was drawing a sharp dividing line between the vaccinated – the people who had done the right thing, he said – and the vaccine resistant that he said were putting kids at risk.
Then he drew a straight line between the demonstrators and Erin O’Toole, arguing the Conservative Leader is “siding with” the protesters when he argues that individuals must be able to make a personal choice about being vaccinated.
“Shame on you, Erin O’Toole,” Mr. Trudeau said. “You need to condemn those people. You need to correct them.”
It takes some magic to lay ownership of the protests on Mr. O’Toole. For starters, he did condemn the Bolton protesters, “and any form of harassment and protest like we’ve seen.” And it’s absurd to suggest the Conservative Leader’s opposition to vaccination requirements for public servants or air travel – he argues rapid tests could be used for the unvaccinated – makes him the inspiration for the mob shouting about conspiracies.
But the first half of Mr. Trudeau’s campaign has not gone well. He clearly believes the pointier rhetoric will appeal to the desire to get the pandemic over, and draw a sharper dividing line between those who want more robust vaccine requirements and those who don’t. And put him on the popular side.
He is breaking out new lines, attacking Mr. O’Toole’s argument about personal choice. “What about my choice to keep my kids safe?” he said in Sudbury on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said the shift was inspired on Monday morning, when he took his youngest son, Hadrien, to school for the first day of second grade and thought that he doesn’t want him going to virtual school again. Vaccinations, and vaccination mandates, are the way to end of the pandemic, he said.
And to take it a step further, that little paragraph on Page 51 – the promise to make it easier for private companies to require employees to get vaccinated – was made into a talking point.
In practice, it’s not easy to do, and the Liberals aren’t really sure how it would work. Civil law is provincial jurisdiction, and except for a relatively small number of federally regulated companies, so is labour law.
Liberal advisers suggested it might be legislated for those federally regulated employees first. Or the provinces might help. One said that lawyers were of the opinion that as long it is only a temporary measure, it could be invoked as an emergency federal government power under the Constitution to ensure “peace, order and good government.”
No wonder there was just one paragraph in the platform to explain it. But it’s still something Mr. Trudeau wanted to talk about a lot.
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