Federal health minister believes mandatory vaccination measures could be up for discussion

·3 min read

Canada’s health minister believes provinces and territories will likely discuss mandatory vaccine requirements in the coming weeks and months, he said Friday — a comment that came one day after federal Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole told media that “reasonable accommodations” should be made for unvaccinated Canadians.

At a press conference Thursday, O’Toole — who voiced his opposition to vaccine mandates in the 2021 federal election — criticized Ottawa for “normalizing lockdowns and restrictions as the primary tool to fight the latest COVID-19 variant” and failing to keep society open.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said unvaccinated people make up nearly 50 per cent of hospitalizations in Quebec, adding Canada’s health-care system is currently “fragile” and “people are tired.”

“The only thing that will solve COVID-19 is vaccination, and that’s why, again, so many people, including myself, are disturbed by the fact that Mr. O’Toole is not even asking his own members of Parliament to be vaccinated,” Duclos said at a press conference Friday in Ottawa.

O’Toole’s “lack of leadership would only force more lockdowns and put Canadians at greater risk,” he said.

Duclos’ office later added in a statement: “By opposing these measures, including for his own members of Parliament, Mr. O’Toole is effectively supporting the continuation of lockdowns.”

Among O’Toole’s remarks Thursday was the assertion that although Canada has vaccines available, “we are still lagging terribly on other tools, like testing and domestic supply of PPE (personal protective equipment).”

Duclos’ office said that in addition to obtaining enough vaccines for all Canadians and delivering “120 million rapid tests by the end of December,” it is shipping 140 million more rapid tests to provinces and territories this month.

While rapid tests, PCR tests, masking, social distancing and PPE are all “very important tools … what will make us move through this crisis and end it is vaccination,” Duclos said.

This sentiment was seconded by Green MP for Kitchener Centre Mike Morrice.

“While measures like rapid tests are part of an overall plan, the fact is that the majority of hospitalizations and ICU admissions are unvaccinated COVID patients,” Morrice said in a statement to Canada’s National Observer. “If we hope for our burnt-out health-care workers to see a light at the end of the tunnel, we must focus on reaching and engaging those who are not fully vaccinated.”

In an emailed statement, MP Don Davies, health critic for the NDP, said: "Instead of wedge politics, Canadians need national leadership to get through the current crisis.

“For many months, New Democrats have been calling for a federal mass vaccination strategy to accelerate rollout, remove all barriers to vaccination and improve uptake among vaccine-hesitant groups.”

He points to Canadians being “unable to get timely access to booster shots” and says “the federal government must do everything in its power to ensure third doses are administered as rapidly as possible."

Quebec has required vaccine passports for non-essential activities since September but took it a step further earlier this week when provincial Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Quebecers will have to show proof of vaccination to enter government-run liquor and cannabis shops.

Duclos says discussions about mandatory vaccination policies are not currently underway, but in a tweet, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ruled out mandatory vaccination. Dubé, on the other hand, said: “If we have to go there, we will” in response to questions about mandatory vaccination just days before Christmas.

Duclos said Ontario and Quebec “going through a very difficult time” is a warning to some provinces and territories that they “need to act now because if they don’t act sufficiently, it’s going to be difficult for the federal government to help after because we don’t have the capacity to do so.”

The Bloc Québécois did not respond to a request for comment before the deadline.

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer

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