Editorial

Manitoba’s Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler continues to contradict his own government’s policies on COVID-19 vaccines and, as a consequence, fuel anti-vaccine sentiment. He should be removed from cabinet.

Manitoba’s Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler continues to contradict his own government’s policies on COVID-19 vaccines and, as a consequence, fuel anti-vaccine sentiment. He should be removed from cabinet.

Canada’s parliamentary tradition dictates that when ministers of the Crown cannot, or refuse to, support key policies of government, they must resign or face dismissal by the first minister. So far, neither has happened with Mr. Schuler, despite his comments last week that clearly betray his government’s position on immunization and vaccine mandates.

Premier Heather Stefanson and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin regularly urge Manitobans to get vaccinated. Health Minister Audrey Gordon last month begged Manitobans to get immunized.

"You can’t see this as being something just about you; it’s about all Manitobans who are in this together," Ms. Gordon said.

The message that all eligible Manitobans should get immunized to mitigate severe illness and protect hospital capacity (unless they have a legitimate medical reason not to) is official government policy.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler

When asked last week during a news conference if he supports that message, Mr. Schuler refused to answer directly. His only response was to repeat several times that getting vaccinated is up to individuals.

"It’s a fundamental liberty to make our own health-care choices," said Mr. Schuler, who for months kept his own vaccine status secret until he was forced to disclose last week (owing to a new proof-of-vaccination requirement to enter the legislative building).

Mr. Schuler said he is not an "anti-vaxxer" and says he believes in vaccinations. But he repeated several times that getting immunized is a personal choice, adding people shouldn’t be "bullied or cajoled." Not once did he support his government’s position on vaccine mandates, proof-of-vaccination policies or its almost-daily messaging to get immunized.

Mr. Schuler, the longtime Tory MLA for Springfield-Ritchot and a member of cabinet since 2016, also contradicted government policy by saying it’s wrong to force people to disclose their vaccine status.

"You should make your health choices for yourself and those should be kept private," he said.

That is not the position of cabinet, of which Mr. Schuler is a member. Provincial law states that people must disclose their vaccine status to enter many public places, including bars, restaurants, museums and movie theatres. Many public servants, including health-care staff, educators and child-care workers, must disclose their vaccination status, or face regular testing.

Not only is Mr. Schuler refusing to support his government’s position on vaccines; he is fueling anti–vaccination sentiment.

All MLAs, contractors and members of the public who enter the legislative building must show their proof-of-vaccination cards.

If Mr. Schuler doesn’t support government policy on vaccine mandates and its messaging around the importance of getting immunized, he should resign from cabinet. If he refuses, the premier should remove him.

Not only is Mr. Schuler refusing to support his government’s position on vaccines; he is fueling anti-vaccination sentiment. By promoting the notion that getting vaccinated is solely a personal choice — which disregards the broader societal responsibilities people have during a pandemic — Mr. Schuler is reinforcing the hesitancy among the vaccine-hesitant.

He has not urged people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones, or to prevent hospitals from further collapse. He does not, as a representative of government, remind people that the science is indisputable that vaccines are safe and effective.

If he did, even while also saying people have to make their own choices, he would be on safe ground as a minister of the Crown. Absent that messaging, Mr. Schuler is essentially telling people they don’t have to get vaccinated if they don’t feel like it.

For that, he should lose his seat at the cabinet table.