Cabinet minister says vax status secrecy his right

Ron Schuler speaks for first time about COVID vaccines

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Health Minister Audrey Gordon refers to herself as a “vaccination ambassador” but that’s not a role Ron Schuler, the minister responsible for the Emergency Measures Organization, is willing to take on.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/12/2021 (241 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon refers to herself as a “vaccination ambassador” but that’s not a role Ron Schuler, the minister responsible for the Emergency Measures Organization, is willing to take on.

On Thursday, for the first time, Schuler spoke publicly about COVID-19 vaccinations — not in support, but to defend “civil liberties” and the right of Manitobans not to disclose their vaccination status.

At a news conference to announce the fall hydrologic condition report, Schuler, the infrastructure minister, was asked why he has refused to discuss his vaccination status.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler defended the rights of Manitobans not to disclose their vaccination status. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I fundamentally believe in the protection of civil liberties,” he said in response.

When asked why he has not championed COVID-19 vaccines as cases ramp up, Schuler read a prepared statement that said, “I believe it is our right to make our own health care choices.”

When asked if he supports chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brett Roussin’s messaging that people should get vaccinated, Schuler didn’t give a direct answer.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler wouldn't answer a question about why he isn't promoting vaccines. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I believe that people should make an informed decision,” he said, noting he is not an anti-vaxxer.

“We have a fundamental right to make our own health care choices.”

“No one should ever be coerced to make a health care choice or publicly divulge their choice or feel that they have to publicly defend their choices,” the minister said one day after Premier Heather Stefanson’s vaccination mandate took effect. It requires all members of her Progressive Conservative caucus to be fully vaccinated.

Don Leitch, clerk of the executive council, confirmed on Wednesday that all cabinet ministers complied with the order and no exemptions were issued, but Schuler refuses to acknowledge he got the jab.

“My personal health information is a personal matter and I do not discuss my health publicly,” he said.

The member for Springfield-Ritchot’s “civil liberties” statements are dangerous and echo similar tropes of Conservative MP Ted Falk, who has also refused to discuss his vaccination status, said Prof. Kelly Saunders at Brandon University.

“We are in the middle of a crisis. For (Schuler) to be undermining that health policy and the messaging that everybody else is saying that we need to do in terms of vaccines, I think it’s not only sending a mixed message to Manitobans, but it’s emboldening the small minority in this province that is still on the fence, that is still hesitant or outright opposed to the issue of vaccines,” said Saunders.

“They’re looking to Minister Schuler and feeling justified and not doing what the rest of us are very clearly doing. So I think, from those perspectives, it’s a very, very dangerous message that he’s sending and one that is not helpful in this current crisis.”

He should be removed from the cabinet and the PC caucus, Saunders said.

“I don’t feel that there’s any room whatsoever for anybody to be an outlier on this issue,” she said. “We’re looking to the province to lead on this issue, to get us through this crisis, and to send a very clear, consistent, singular, unified message that we need to be vaccinated and we need to do everything we can to save lives in this province.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called Schuler’s comments “a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of Manitobans who have sacrificed so much to keep their loved ones and neighbours safe.”

“The minister in charge of emergency measures is more worried about his feelings than about setting an example that could save lives, when Manitoba could be facing 1,000 cases of COVID a day in six weeks,” Lamont said in an email.

“The premier needs to explain why Schuler’s statements are considered acceptable, or remove him from cabinet.”

The leader of the official Opposition also called for Schuler’s removal from cabinet.

“The minister for emergency measures in Manitoba cannot say if he supports his government’s public health measures and message on vaccines,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a tweet.

“Cabinet solidarity dictates he should leave cabinet if he can’t support that. Will the premier act?”

Stefanson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

At his news conference Thursday, Schuler said he’s had many people call and ask for health care advice who’ve been “pushed and bullied and cajoled on either side.”

“They call me in tears and ask me what they should do. My advice to them is go to your family doctor. Go to a health care provider… I have ‘minister’ in front of my name, not ‘doctor’.”

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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