Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is campaigning for re-election, says a notice posted online advising of “alternative” options for federal workers who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine was taken down because it was “erroneous.”
The Liberal leader spoke with journalists from the campaign trail and said the notice was not accurate given a policy announced by his government just before the writ drop which said vaccination will be mandatory for federal workers.
“That letter was erroneous and didn’t reflect government policy so it was brought down by public servants,” Trudeau said when questioned on the removal of the notice from the website of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
He did not answer questions on whether he or any of his staff asked for the notice to be removed.
The secretariat is effectively the bureaucratic counterpart to the political Treasury Board, whose president is Liberal Jean-Yves Duclos, campaigning for re-election as the MP for the riding of Québec.
“For those who refuse vaccination, we will need to consider alternative measures, such as testing and screening,” said the notice, posted on Friday. “Our overall objective will be to protect broader public health by reducing the risk of COVID-19.”
Officials confirmed on Aug. 13 that the government is making vaccination mandatory for all workers in the federal public by this fall, and that officials expect federally regulated industries to follow suit.
The federal election was called later that weekend, on Aug. 15.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said the notice was removed so as not to confuse people.
“The language in the message posted late Friday afternoon was inaccurate, and the message has been taken down to avoid confusion,” said Geneviève Sicard .
“Details will be communicated as the work unfolds.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole opposes mandating vaccinations, calling the proposal an attempt to “drive a wedge” between Canadians and arguing that daily rapid testing should be used instead.
Michael Barrett, seeking re-election as the Conservative MP for Leeds — Grenville —Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, on Monday accused Trudeau of “misleading” Canadians about his party’s claim to require mandatory vaccination given the notice highlighted “alternative measures.”
“In other words, Justin Trudeau’s plan for federal employees is the same as Erin O’Toole’s,” he said.
“We know Trudeau craves a majority, but dividing Canadians on an important issue — based on a lie — is going too far. It needs to stop. Now.”
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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh issued a statement Monday night similarly taking aim at Trudeau for not committing to clear details on his vow to require mandatory vaccination.
“All collective agreements include a process for progressive discipline — up to and including termination,” he said. “Discipline should always be a last resort, but may be necessary in rare cases to protect the health and safety of Canadians.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents federal public servants, has said it supports mandatory vaccination but has concerns about privacy and accommodations.
“Although we support the goals of the government’s proposal, it’s critical that any eventual plan put forward by the government that would collect or verify the vaccination or medical status of our members respects their legal right to privacy,” the union said on Friday.
“The government must also provide accommodations for workers who cannot be vaccinated for reasons protected under human rights legislation, including health concerns.”
PSAC urged continued consultation with unions on how they plan to do so while implementing the plan.
Trudeau has so far dodged questions on what might happen to those who do not have a legitimate medical reason for not getting the vaccine, and whether they could be fired as a result.
When pressed for answers on Tuesday, he said discussions with unions continue and that for federal workers refusing vaccination without a legitimate medical reason, “there will be consequences.”
He did not say what he believes those consequences should be.