Transportation Minister Omar Al-Ghubra announced today that the federal government will soon require all public servants to be vaccinated – a mandate he said will also be implemented by Crown and other federally regulated businesses in the coming weeks.
While Canada’s vaccination rate is among the highest in the world – 81 percent of all eligible Canadians get at least one dose – Alghabra said the country “must do better”.
“We need to reach as many Canadians as possible,” he said.
After the blitzkrieg in April and May, the number of new first doses taken daily has stopped at less than 100,000 since mid-June.
There are still more than 5.7 million people over the age of 12 who have chosen to forgo the shot altogether, or wait for a later appointment. The number of unvaccinated Canadians equals nearly everyone living in the Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton metropolitan areas combined.
Starting next month, the vaccine will become mandatory for federal employees and those who work in some federally regulated industries (airlines and railroads, among others) in an effort to boost stalled vaccination rates.
The government says it also “expects” other employers to be in Federally regulated sectors – Like banks, radio and telecommunications – will require vaccination for their employees. “The government will work with these employers to ensure this outcome,” the government said. Declaration Announcing the new authorization.
There are more than 300,000 federal government employees and tens of thousands of people employed in industries that fall under federal labor law.
Al-Ghabra said the government would urgently work with public service unions and employers to get the mandate “by the end of October” at the latest.
This is not a recommendation. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominique LeBlanc said all public servants and some employees in federally regulated sectors must comply with the vaccine mandate or risk losing their jobs.
“This is a mandatory requirement to go to work in a federal workplace or to work for the Government of Canada,” he said.
“It is clear that there will be certain individuals for medical reasons who will not be vaccinated and the appropriate officials will work with them to ensure that appropriate measures are taken.”
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Alghabra said that in addition to mandatory vaccination requirements for federal employees, a similar authorization would be extended to “certain travelers.”
Al-Ghubra said that starting soon, all commercial air travelers and passengers on inter-provincial trains and large sea vessels with overnight accommodations (such as cruise ships) will have to be vaccinated. He said facilities would be provided for “those few who are unable to be vaccinated”, such as testing and screening.
“Vaccine requirements in the transportation sector will help protect the safety of employees, their families, passengers, their communities and all Canadians. On a larger scale, Canada will speed its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
In response to a question about when these measures will take effect for travelers, Al-Ghubra said that the government is working to develop a “calculated and practical approach to requesting vaccines in these sectors as soon as possible.”
With a fourth wave of new infections set to hit Canada in the coming weeks, experts say boosting vaccine coverage will protect the country’s health care system from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients again.
So far, the vast majority of new infections have been among the unvaccinated, although they make up an increasingly smaller segment of the population.
There have been a number of “breakthrough” cases among those fully vaccinated, but early data suggests that those who received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are less likely to require hospitalization or die from the virus.
Proponents of mandatory shots assert that it is the best way to develop herd immunity, protect the collective health of Canadians and rid the country of a very serious disease. Universal immunization coverage has almost eliminated other diseases, such as polio and tetanus.
Meanwhile, critics say the demand for vaccines is a heavy-handed approach that can lead to discrimination against the unvaccinated.
In a statement, a spokesman for Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said vaccines are the “most important tool in the fight against COVID-19” and the party encourages “every Canadian able to get one”.
But when asked about the federal mandate, the spokesperson said, “Conservatives support the right of Canadians to make their own health choices.”
Before the new requirements were announced Friday, Conservative Representative David Yordiga, who represents Fort McMurray, Alta. In the House of Commons, he said the government’s plan to make vaccination mandatory for federal bureaucrats was “another example of liberals’ excessive use of government for political gain”.
Yordiga said forcing these workers to get a vaccine is a “tyrannical” idea that should stop all Canadians.
“Canadians deserve the right to freedom, whether they choose to be vaccinated or not,” Yordiga said. “Forcing the vaccine as a condition of action would be the beginning of a slippery slope.”
Such a policy would punish Canadians for “what they choose to do with their bodies,” the MP said.
In a media statement, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said his party had argued “from the start that mandatory vaccination may be necessary to keep everyone safe. Workers and unions should be involved in any compulsory vaccination plans”.
“Instead of calling for elections amid the pandemic, Justin Trudeau should focus on working with counties to help everyone get a vaccine,” Singh added.
Although there was definite resistance from some quarters, at least one federal public service consortium said on Friday it was open to delegating.
Debbie Daviau is president of the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada, which represents 60,000 bureaucrats across the country. She said in a media statement that the union “welcomes all efforts to increase vaccination coverage in Canada.”
“This includes the federal government’s vaccine policy that makes vaccines accessible to our members and accommodates legitimate reasons for which an employee may not be vaccinated.”
Mark Porter, executive vice president of people and culture at WestJet, said the airline will “work hard to implement government policy on mandatory vaccinations for airline employees.”
“Vaccinations are the most effective way to ensure the safety of our guests and employees, while limiting the spread of COVID-19,” he said, promising to work with employees who may have questions about the new requirements.
Goldie Haider, president and CEO of the Canadian Business Council, said ordering vaccinations for some workers was “the absolutely right thing to do.”
“These measures should be implemented as soon as possible” so that Canada can avoid further economic disruption linked to the pandemic, he said.
“We must do better if we hope to avoid a big fourth wave. Canadians and Canadian businesses cannot afford any more shutdowns.”