I am hardly a fan of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Photos of him singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling with then-American president Ronald Reagan back in 1985 while opening up the Free Trade agreement between Canada and the U.S. was a moment seared in my young-journalist mind.

Opinion

I am hardly a fan of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Photos of him singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling with then-American president Ronald Reagan back in 1985 while opening up the Free Trade agreement between Canada and the U.S. was a moment seared in my young-journalist mind.

Canada ushered in a new era of globalization, and things haven’t been the same since.

<p>Bill Grimshaw / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Then-prime minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. president Ronald Reagan, along with Mila Mulroney and Nancy Reagan, sing When Irish Eyes are Smiling at a 1985 gala. Mulroney said if he was the leader of the Conservatives, he would ensure all his MPs were vaccinated.</p>

Bill Grimshaw / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Then-prime minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. president Ronald Reagan, along with Mila Mulroney and Nancy Reagan, sing When Irish Eyes are Smiling at a 1985 gala. Mulroney said if he was the leader of the Conservatives, he would ensure all his MPs were vaccinated.

But Mulroney did get it right in an interview with CTV at the end of October when he said if he was the leader of the Conservatives, he would ensure all his MPs were vaccinated. As he said in the interview, "Who am I to argue with the tens of thousands of brilliant scientists and doctors who urged the population desperately to get vaccinated?" He continued by saying, "Look, you’re not the leader to follow, you’re the leader to lead."

Are you listening, Heather Stefanson? Because there are a lot of people in Manitoba who are waiting for the Progressive Conservatives in this province to lead on vaccinations.

While Mulroney’s message may have been intended for federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, it should be heeded by our current premier, particularly as we are seeing COVID-19 numbers rise again in the province, with a new variant on its way.

Even worse, outbreaks in a number of Manitoba care homes have not resulted in mandatory vaccinations for staff. Instead, unvaccinated health-care and personal-care home workers only have to submit to testing every 48 hours.

In a radio interview last week, Stefanson said she doesn’t like mandatory vaccines. Yet, during the first year of the pandemic, roughly half of the deaths in the province related to personal-care homes and right now, according to media reports, there are at least five personal-care homes in the province in the midst of COVID-19 outbreaks during this fourth wave of the pandemic.

I get that Progressive Conservatives in Manitoba are worried that by taking a stand, they could lose supporters they desperately need ahead of the next provincial election. But here’s a news flash: they are guaranteed to lose if they keep this up. What the PCs need to do is take a strong, principled stand and actually protect those who have been doing the right thing all along.

Why should we care if we’re vaccinated? Well, for one, even though vaccines aren’t 100 per cent effective and many people are still getting COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, the outcomes are not as severe. Indeed, NDP Leader Wab Kinew was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, despite being double vaxxed, and was forced to miss the in-person opening of the legislature as a result.

Not being vaccinated also means you put those who can’t be vaccinated at risk. That includes children and babies who still haven’t been able to access vaccinations. Those who are immunocompromised are also at a higher risk, even when fully vaccinated. Following the public-health directives and advice keeps everyone safe.

But more importantly, the absence of vaccination also creates a greater risk for new variants to mutate. According to a Bloomberg interview with Christopher Martin, a professor of public health at West Virginia University, the COVID-19 virus replicates only when inside a human host; it hijacks our cellular machinery to make more copies of itself instead of more copies of human cells.

The process makes mistakes, however, and those mistakes result in mutations that create different versions in the invading pathogen. This is why we are deep in the grips of the delta variant, first identified in India, have more recently encountered omicron, which was identified in South Africa and has now been confirmed in Canada.

When Mulroney signed the free trade deal in 1985 with Reagan, it was the beginning of globalization. The agreement that became the North American Free Trade deal of 1994 set the stage for unfettered trade between countries, and we’re now seeing Canada as part of a global village.

This also means unvaccinated pockets in underdeveloped regions, which are breeding grounds for new mutations of COVID-19, will ultimately create problems for those of us living in Manitoba. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said last week that Canada is boosting its commitment to COVAX, a vaccine distribution program coordinated by the World Health Organization and other groups, by some 73 million more shots to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are more readily available worldwide.

It comes down to leadership. It’s about listening to the experts, and making tough decisions. It’s about protecting the vulnerable. I don’t understand how Stefanson doesn’t seem to understand this.

Shannon Sampert is a Winnipeg-based political scientist and the former politics and perspectives editor of the Winnipeg Free Press.

shannon@mediadiva.ca