Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte said her failure to provide staff at an Osborne Street bistro with proper proof-of-vaccination last week was just a misunderstanding.
The MLA for Seine River, who until Sunday had refused to publicly disclose her COVID-19 vaccination status, said she thought a printed copy of her immunization record — one that did not include the mandatory government-issued QR code — was sufficient to prove she is doubled vaxxed.
Ms. Morley-Lecomte told staff they were mistaken when they informed her the piece of paper she presented did not comply with the provincial government’s public-health orders.
"I’m an MLA," she declared to a server at the Oakwood Cafe, as if her status as a member of the legislative assembly granted her special consideration.
It’s unclear what type of document Ms. Morley-Lecomte had in hand. But she surely knew, or ought to have known, that a printed copy of her vaccination history without the required QR code is not sufficient.
Manitoba’s public-health orders clearly state that in public places where proof-of-vaccination is required, people over the age of 12 must present their digital or physical immunization cards issued by the province. The card includes a scannable QR code to verify authenticity. Government-issued identification is also required to corroborate the person’s name.
It is difficult to fathom how any elected official could not be aware of this rule. Not only is it common knowledge that QR codes are required to enter restaurants, licensed establishments and many other indoor public places; it is a regulation enacted by the very government in which Ms. Morley-Lecomte serves. The province-wide policy has been in place since the summer. It has been widely publicized and is the subject of regular public discourse.
Elected officials have a special duty to be aware of public-health orders and to follow them without reservation, particularly during a pandemic. Failure to present proper proof of vaccination when required (and insisting staff are mistaken when they ask for it) is the exact opposite of how a responsible elected official should behave.
It’s challenging enough for front-line employees in the hospitality industry to be burdened with the task of checking vaccine cards. The last thing they need are patrons giving them a hard time. Ms. Morley-Lecomte was not rude or unpleasant when she declined to produce proper proof-of-vaccination, Oakwood Café owner Wendy May said. But it was disrespectful (and wrong) for her to tell the server a QR code is not required.
Rather than issuing an unqualified apology, Ms. Morley-Lecomte said in a statement "if there was a misunderstanding, I do apologize." This was not a misunderstanding. Either the Tory MLA knowingly attempted to skirt the province’s public-health orders or she was ignorant of the law. Neither is acceptable.
Premier Heather Stefanson’s response to the incident was equally disappointing. Instead of directly addressing the issue, a spokesperson for the premier issued a generic statement Sunday saying all Manitobans, including elected officials, must follow the rules.
On Monday, the premier added that Ms. Morley-Lecomte has now downloaded the necessary QR code and that "the issue has been resolved to my satisfaction."
There is, however, a larger issue at hand. If Ms. Stefanson and her government expect Manitobans to respect public-health orders, it’s incumbent on all members of her caucus to show leadership by following and actively promoting those orders.