Recent surges of cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant are prompting political leaders and health-care experts around the world to search for ways to limit the spread of the virus.
Even in countries like Canada with high overall levels of vaccination, millions of children still lack the option to get the vaccine and millions of adults have either chosen against or are hesitating about getting one of the vaccines on offer, which puts those around them at greater risk of infection.
Amid headlines about hospitals south of the border flooded with children struggling to breathe from the virus, poll after poll of Canadians suggests there is overwhelming public support for mandating vaccination for some members of society: in particular, health-care workers and education workers.
At the same time, the Liberal government announced just prior to the start of the election campaign that all federal workers in the public service will be required to get vaccinated — and that officials expect federally regulated workplaces like banks, airlines, broadcasters and telecom companies to follow suit.
Still, not all of the party leaders agree.
With mandatory vaccination emerging as a central discussion in the election, which comes to a head when voters cast their ballots on Sept. 20, here’s what you need to know about where the major federal leaders stand.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau
Trudeau is in the midst of campaigning for re-election but announced a series of mandatory vaccine policies two days before asking the governor general to dissolve Parliament and call an election.
Under those government policies, which are set to take effect later this fall unless Trudeau loses the election, all federal workers will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
That will also apply to travellers on commercial flights, interprovincial passenger trains and cruise ships.
Officials have said they also expect all federally regulated employers to follow suit. That includes industries like banking, airlines, railways, broadcasters, telecommunications companies and others.
Together, federally regulated industries employ roughly 910,000 workers while the federal public service is made up of more than 300,000 employees.
While Trudeau says there will be “consequences” for federal workers who refuse to get vaccinated, he has not said what those might be and whether he believes they should be fired.
While decisions like health care and education are provincial responsibilities, Trudeau has urged all Canadians to get their vaccines. Trudeau is also fully vaccinated, having received one dose of AstraZeneca in April and one dose of the Moderna mRNA vaccine in July.
The Liberal Party has said it is in the process of verifying vaccination status with candidates and that all candidates without a valid medical reason against vaccination must have fully vaccinated.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole
O’Toole is currently fighting to defeat Trudeau and become prime minister.
He opposes mandatory vaccination and has accused Trudeau of using the issue as a political “wedge” to divide Canadians and says rapid testing should be an alternative to mandating shots.
In response to the news on Aug. 13 that the government will require vaccination proof for travellers and for federal workers, O’Toole argued increased testing is a “reasonable and balanced approach.”
His plan is to require federal public servants who are not vaccinated to pass a daily rapid test.
He also proposes requiring unvaccinated Canadian passengers to present either a “recent negative test result” or pass a rapid test in order to be able to board a bus, train, plane or ship.
O’Toole has encouraged Canadians to get the vaccine but said attempting to mandate vaccination is divisive.
“We should be united on this, not divided and Conservatives will not engage in this attempt to drive a wedge between Canadians,” he said in a statement on Aug. 13.
“Justin Trudeau may want our politics to be American based on the small differences that divide us.”
O’Toole is fully vaccinated, having received one dose of AstraZeneca in April and a second dose of Pfizer.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
Like Trudeau, Singh is firmly in favour of requiring vaccines for federal workers.
But he has criticized Trudeau for a lack of details in his plan and said the promises lack timelines or consequences for those who refuse to get their shots.
Singh has also called for domestic vaccine passports and mandatory vaccine rules to be in place by Labour Day.
“Canadian families should be able to access vaccine passports as easily as possible. And they should be able to use them here at home — not just when travelling internationally,” he said in a statement.
“Real leadership — and not just talk — would mean getting more provinces to sign on to a vaccine passport, and ensure the passport is in place by Labour Day.”
He has described the target as “aggressive, but doable” and says putting clear standards in place is a way of ensuring that “the health and safety of Canadians must come first.”
Singh also says that for those who refuse to get their shots, the collective bargaining agreements with the federal unions lay out a path to terminate employment, if necessary.
“For employees who still refuse to be vaccinated, without a reason related to health status, we would expect that the collective agreement would be followed. 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.”
Singh is fully vaccinated, having received his first dose of AstraZeneca in April and a second dose of Moderna at the end of June.
Green Leader Annamie Paul
Paul has said she does not plan to spent much time outside of the Toronto Centre riding that she is trying to win.
However, she weighed in on the question of requiring vaccines when asked by reporters on Aug. 16 and said while she encourages people to get vaccinated, she has concerns with the proposal.
Paul was asked specifically whether she supports requiring vaccines for federal workers and did not clearly answer, explaining instead that there are not enough details available so far.
“I’m interested in knowing the details of the government’s plan,” she said.
Paul added there are people who have legitimate reasons not to get vaccinated, as well as those who are hesitant or who come from communities that have had negative experiences with the health care system. “What is the plan to educate those people? What is the plan to allay their concerns?”
“Have we explained to those who, for whatever reason do not want to get vaccinated, but certainly those who have religious or cultural or other reasons, what reasonable accommodations we are going to make for them?”
Paul said she is fully vaccinated and encourages others to get the vaccine.