MANITOBA will not implement a universal vaccine mandate on university or college campuses in the province out of respect for their institutional autonomy, says the minister in charge of post-secondary education.
During a scrum at the Manitoba legislature Monday, Advanced Education Minister Wayne Ewasko fielded questions about mandatory immunization for staff, students and academics, and defended the province’s stance.
Ewasko, who joined cabinet in January, spoke about interference concerns he has heard since he took over the post-secondary portfolio.
"A lot of concerns that were out there was that the government was going to be telling the post-secondaries what to do and they wanted to (retain) their autonomy and so that’s what we’re respecting," he said.
The minister added higher learning institutions vary in size, operation, population, reopening approach and "they’ve got different wants and needs."
Last week, major universities and colleges co-ordinated releases to announce in unison they are making full COVID-19 vaccination compulsory to access their respective campuses.
The list of institutions requiring proof of immunization this fall includes the University of Manitoba, U of W, Red River College, Canadian Mennonite University, Assiniboine Community College, University College of the North and Providence University College.
While policy details are still being finalized, the consensus is accommodation will be made for those who cannot get a jab for medical or religious reasons. Some institutions have already indicated periodic testing will be an option for unvaccinated individuals to visit.
The Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology, Brandon University, Université de Saint-Boniface, Yellowquill University College, Booth University College and Steinbach Bible College have yet to commit to mandates.
On Monday, the province’s chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, signalled his support for educational institutions making vaccination mandatory. Implementing such a measure protects Manitobans and the health-care system, said Roussin.
The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations argues mandates protect community health and school finances, because a full reopening is tied to vaccine uptake and low COVID-19 figures.
Organization president Scott Forbes, who has long criticized the Pallister government for overstepping in university operations, was unimpressed by Ewasko’s latest comments.
Introducing legislation that allows the government to set differential program fees, supporting an outcomes-based funding model for universities and repeated interference in bargaining matters all suggest the province does not respect institutional autonomy, he said in a statement.
Forbes added, "We hope his change of heart today signals that these policies will be reversed and universities will be free to perform their vital role to society without political interference."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.