Unvaxxed MLAs allowed to work remotely

Government accused of setting poor example

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THE Progressive Conservative government is not forcing its MLAs to be vaccinated when the legislative session resumes next week, despite the province making immunizations mandatory for many essential workers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/09/2021 (318 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE Progressive Conservative government is not forcing its MLAs to be vaccinated when the legislative session resumes next week, despite the province making immunizations mandatory for many essential workers.

New COVID-19 safety protocols for the legislative assembly, which were issued Monday, include mask rules, screening for symptoms and reduced capacity, but there is no stated requirement for those in the chamber to be vaccinated or tested, and anyone who isn’t can work remotely.

However, all house leaders have agreed MLAs who attend the session in person must show proof of vaccination or a negative test result. MLAs also have the option to participate virtually, the press secretary for Premier Kelvin Goertzen confirmed Wednesday.

“It is my understanding that all members in the chamber for the October sitting have been vaccinated,” Speaker Myrna Driedger said in an email.

The Progressive Conservative party disclosed in July two of its MLAs had not received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Free Press surveyed all MLAs and learned all had been fully vaccinated except for Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler and MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte, both of whom have refused to comment after describing vaccination status as a personal matter.

In August, Ontario Premier Doug Ford demanded all members of his caucus be fully vaccinated or face ejection. The Manitoba PC caucus hasn’t gone that far, and allowing some of its members to work remotely has given the party an out, said one political analyst.

“They’re trying to dodge the issue and distract attention away from the fact that we have two sitting MLAs from the governing party that appear to be unvaccinated,” said Brandon University political science Prof. Kelly Saunders. “That’s not what parties are supposed to do. They’re supposed to show leadership in a time of crisis and make sure that the rules are consistent and that they equally apply to everybody. They’re asking civil servants to step up and get vaccinated, or show proof of testing.”

Civil servants on the front lines don’t have the option of working remotely, she said.

House leaders determine safety protocols for the assembly, Driedger said in an email. She said they agreed to have 38 of 57 members seated in the chamber (24 PC government members, 12 opposition NDP members and two Liberals) with the rest participating virtually for the abbreviated session that will rise after six days and is not due to return until Nov. 16.

Having a government MLA and cabinet minister absent from the chamber and sitting remotely “is not the same thing as participating in person,” Saunders said. “So much of what goes on in the legislative building happens not only directly in the house — it’s the comments that are raised and questions that are being asked of members — particularly in the governing party,” she said. “I think that everybody suffers as a result and it’s not an optimal form of engaging in democracy.”

NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said the opposition has pushed for all MLAs to be vaccinated. The party issued a news release calling for the new PC party leader to demand that all elected members be vaccinated. With the fourth wave of COVID-19 now in Manitoba and the unvaccinated more at risk than ever for serious outcomes, all elected officials need to show leadership, Fontaine said.

“Those case numbers are going up and up and we need to be setting that example,” Fontaine said Wednesday. “We need to be modelling that behaviour on what’s in the best interest of the public.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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