EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition is urging Premier Jason Kenney to make sure every member of his United Conservative caucus is vaccinated against COVID-19.
Thomas Dang, the NDP's deputy house leader, says anyone who is not vaccinated should be removed from caucus.
He says with Alberta hospitals overcrowded with infected patients, it’s imperative that political leaders set the right example and get their shots, as is being required of the governing caucuses in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
“Alberta has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Canada and we are currently paying an incredibly heavy price for this,” Dang said Friday.
“You cannot be a government MLA and refuse to be vaccinated. That selfish choice leads to directly preventable deaths and human suffering. I’m calling on Jason Kenney to require that every single one of his MLAs be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be immediately ejected from the government caucus.”
Dang says all 24 NDP legislature members and 30 staff have received both vaccine doses.
It’s not clear how many in Kenney’s 60-member caucus have been vaccinated, but there has been internal division over health restrictions and vaccinations.
The NDP has also sent a letter to Speaker Nathan Cooper, in which the party calls for a meeting of the member services committee to bring in a rule that all legislature members be vaccinated to be in the chamber.
Cooper, in an interview, said that the all-party committee can make recommendations to the house, but the legislative assembly "is the overarching body and the primary decision-maker ... with respect to access to the chamber or otherwise."
Asked for comment on Dang's request, Kenney's office replied in a statement: "The government house leader is working with the Legislative Assembly to ensure that this fall's session can take place safely."
On Thursday, Kenney said he is pursuing mandatory vaccinations or proof of negative tests for all house members, but added there are constitutional issues that must be worked out first.
“It’s a long-standing legal principle that you can’t prohibit an elected member from entering the chamber,” Kenney said.
He made the comments after introducing mandatory vaccines for all 25,000 members of Alberta’s public service. Workers must be fully vaccinated by the end of November or show regular proof of negative tests at their own expense. Anyone who doesn’t comply will be put on unpaid leave.
All Alberta Health Services staff, including front-line doctors and nurses, have already been directed to be fully vaccinated by the end of October.
Alberta is trying to get more people vaccinated to stop a surge in COVID-19 cases that has overwhelmed hospitals.
Kenney has reintroduced a provincewide indoor mask mandate, renewed gathering restrictions and brought in a modified vaccine passport to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Since introducing the passport two weeks ago, Alberta’s sluggish vaccination rate has been ticking up. Almost 84 per cent of those eligible now have at least one shot.
The province has also offered $100 for shots along with three $1-million prizes and other rewards. On Friday, Hayley Hauck of Sherwood Park, Alta., was announced as the third and final million-dollar winner.
Kenney has said he heard that vaccine hesitant Albertans would be more willing to accept the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and he's asked the federal government to provide it.
Ottawa is working to secure more, but doesn’t have any Johnson & Johnson doses right now following concerns about quality control at some manufacturing facilities.
Pressure remains great on Alberta’s hospitals and medical specialists from the Red Cross, the Canadian Armed Forces and Newfoundland and Labrador are expected to arrive in days.
The province has more than doubled its original capacity of 173 intensive care beds and had 316 patients receiving critical care on Friday. Most of them were COVID-19 patients.
There are more than 20,000 active cases and well over 1,000 new infections have been reported every day for weeks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press