COVID-19: Where the major parties stand on vaccine passports

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Where the major parties stand on vaccine passports
WATCH: With Canada facing a fourth wave of the pandemic and an upcoming election on the horizon, the major parties have revealed their plans regarding mandatory vaccinations and vaccine passports – Sep 2, 2021

When Justin Trudeau announced the 44th election, he said he was doing so because Canadians need to choose how we will end our fight against COVID-19.

He was talking about vaccines, vaccine mandates and passports.

So far, different provinces have different approaches and it’s proving to cause not so much division as confusion.

The Saskatchewan Government recently announced a voluntary vaccine passport system, where venues and municipalities “may” ask for proof of vaccination.

Regina’s Rebellion Brewing owner Mark Heise told Global News he supports the measure and businesses who have enacted their own policies, though he believes it should be up to the government to enact the policy.

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“There’s a bit of an issue there for small businesses,” he said.

“First of all, we’re not experts in public health. We are not experts in how to verify proof of vaccination, proof of medical history.”

But he said that “could be easily solved if the government would take on their role of administering public health and safety for all of its citizens,”

For now, he said he’s waiting to see what the government does.

Colin Hill, co-owner of Bodhi Tree Yoga in Regina, took a different approach.

He and his staff began requiring clients to show them proof-of-vaccination in July.

He told Global News the yoga studio leadership decided to enact the measure because some of their clients are older and because they’ve always “gone out of our way to take every precaution we could think of to make people safe and feel more relaxed when they’re here.”

Requiring proof of vaccination, he said, is an extension of that. He told Global News all of the studio’s customers have been in favour.

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But he said having a standardized method would be better.

“We are just rolling with those little cards from the nurse when you got your jab or a screenshot from your e-health (account).”

The Liberal Party of Canada has promised to help with that.

If elected, the grits say they’ll make vaccines mandatory for federal workers and anyone working in federally-regulated sectors, like air travel.

That also applies to passengers.

Justin Trudeau has promised to divide one billion dollars among the provinces to help them create their own passports systems or to bolster the existing systems.

And on Aug. 11, Immigration Minister and Liberal MP Marco Mendicino announced the federal government will create vaccine passports for international travel.

The NDP have said they like the Liberal’s plan, though they want it done sooner and in coordination with unions.

Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole has said his party will enact a different approach.

If elected, the Tories would require unvaccinated Canadians to show recent negative tests or pass a rapid test to travel and for federal employees to go to work.

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Health care falls under provincial jurisdiction and merging provincial and federal plans — on whether passports are needed for essential or non-essential businesses, for example — can be complicated.

A public policy expert told Global News it is too important, and too nebulous a matter to leave to a political popularity contest.

“It begs for a situation where you have federal-provincial conversations about this inside parliament, (where) you have multi-party conversations about this, and (where) you do not make it into a partisan issue,” Ken Coates, of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, said.

Creating an efficient, and therefore uniform system, he said, would be a challenge during regular political periods, never mind during a pandemic election.

“The provinces get to make an awful lot of the choices. Are we going to, in the middle of a pandemic, change that? I don’t think so, for the simple reason that the provinces have different cultures, different sort of values system, different set of expectations, and we have different decision-making processes.”

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The problem is made worse, Coates told Global News, because the vaccine mandates and passports have not become the central issue in this election, despite it being the ostensible cause of Canadians going to the ballot box on Sept. 20.

Instead of tackling this important issue or others, like reconciliation in light of the grisly discoveries at many sites of former residential schools or an increasingly dire climate change forecast, Coates said, this election isn’t really about anything.

“I think this is actually an election about nothing. This is just a Seinfeld election,” he told Global News.

While noting he isn’t a scientist, he speculated that all provinces and the next federal government would likely be forced to implement vaccine passports because the fourth wave is so bad.

Dr. Cory Neudorf, a doctor, epidemiologist and Saskatchewan Health Authority interim senior medical officer, agrees with him.

“Without passports or vaccine checks,” he told Global News, “(there will be) a lot more mixing of the population. And, of course, that leads to the perfect breeding ground for large outbreaks.”

More cases and outbreaks will ripple through the healthcare system because COVID patients will take up beds that could go to others who have suffered heart attacks and other, non-COVID ailments.

He said mandates and passports are especially necessary for health-care workers and for people who work at schools and with children.

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Neudorf said fully-vaccinated people can still spread the virus and can still catch it, so vaccine passports, and other health measures like masks, he said, will ensure vulnerable people are safer.

Without methods to contain COVID, Neudorf said, “we can have secondary impacts on mortality and availability of health-care services for other causes.

“Eventually, it can also lead to the emergence of new variants of concern.”

Given the surging disease and low vaccination rate (only around 70 per cent of Saskatchewan residents are double vaccinated as of Thursday), Neudorf said the province needs more measures to stop the spread.

He said a federal vaccine passport system would likely be the fastest way to bring the fourth wave under control and to encourage people who are hesitant about the vaccines to get their shots.

“Making sure something is required gets rid of that last barrier for people who are just hesitant in the sense of ‘I don’t see the need for me personally to get this, but it’s not that I’m adamantly opposed to it.’”

Premier Scott Moe said the government won’t mandate vaccines for the general public and previously said it will not reintroduce health guidelines.

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The mayors of the two largest cities in the province, though, feel differently.

Both cities are moving towards requiring proof of vaccination for visitors to enter city buildings.

Regina’s program is scheduled to start on Sept. 15. Saskatoon has not announced when its initiative could be underway.

Heise said he would welcome a vaccine passport system, if and when a government implements it.

He told Global News  he is hoping to avoid further lockdowns.

“If there’s something around vaccinations, I think that that would be fine,” he said, “especially if that means we don’t have to go into any further restrictions around the capacities.

“That’s the real business killer.”

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