The campaign manager for Cathay Wagantall, the Conservative Party candidate and incumbent for Saskatchewan's Yorkton-Melville riding, has organized an online petition and is an admin of a Facebook group opposing masking policies implemented by two local school divisions.
Vanessa Andres, who runs Wagantall's federal re-election campaign, is listed as the creator of a petition directed at the Good Spirit School Division and Christ the Teacher Catholic Schools, both based in Yorkton.
On the Facebook page, the administrators state the group was formed because of the decision to mandate masks "on K to 6 students while indoors at school and while using school transportation."
"We stand firmly against our children being forced to be masked, and realize that now is our time to stand and fight!"
The Facebook group has more than 1,600 members.
On Sunday, Andres wrote on her own Facebook page, "I encourage you, if you are a concerned parent, guardian, staff, bus driver of GSSD or CTTC on the plan of mandating masks, to take a stand with us."
"I'm sharing this as I represent a multitude of concerned individuals who want their voices heard."
Andres linked to the online petition which, as of Friday, has more than 24,000 signatures.
In the petition, Andres writes, "we believe that all individuals should have the freedom to decide which health measures they choose to implement for themselves and their families. It is concerning that our local health officials would choose to act against the chief medical officer's health recommendation for our province."
Saskatchewan released its return to school plan two weeks ago, which recommended masks in common areas of schools but stopped short of mandating masks.
School divisions in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Yorkton are among those to go further than the provincial recommendations, citing recommendations from local medical health officers.
On Friday, both Regina school divisions made masks mandatory in high schools, days after school started and only a week after originally announcing they would be recommended rather than mandated. The school divisions cited advice from local medical health officers in dealing with rising cases due to the delta variant.
Premier Scott Moe, Health Minister Paul Merriman, and Education Minister Dustin Duncan have said the school divisions, in conjunction with the local medical health officers, can develop their own policies as they see fit.
Andres's petition cites the Moose Jaw public school division, which has made masks voluntary in classrooms. The division that represents Catholic schools in the Moose Jaw area has mandated masks in classrooms.
"While we understand the continuity of the school divisions, we disagree with the mandate," Andres wrote in the petition. "We fundamentally believe that parents should be entrusted with the decision as to whether or not our children should be masked at school."
According to the Saskatchewan government, the central east region in which the Yorkton school divisions are located has 49 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds fully vaccinated. The provincial average for that demographic is 54 per cent.
Overall, the region has fully vaccinated 67 per cent of eligible residents — close to the provincial average of 68 per cent.
Candidate says she respects provincial guidelines
When asked for comment on Thursday, Cathay Wagantall said, "I respect the right of my provincial government to implement and manage public health guidelines."
Local school divisions have been given autonomy over health measures in their schools.
"My campaign will continue to follow all public health measures both locally and provincially," Wagantall said.
Wagantall was first elected to the House of Commons in 2015 and won re-election in 2019, capturing 76 per cent of the vote in her riding.