OTTAWA — The Trudeau Liberals are blaming Canada Post’s interpretation of government rules for sending a Winnipeg mail carrier home for attempting to wear a higher-quality mask.
Winnipeg postal worker Corey Gallagher, whose pregnant wife is immunocompromised and his child too young to be vaccinated, has since been docked pay even though the Crown corporation is, apparently, incorrect.
"Employers can go above and beyond what they are required to do," reads a statement sent late Wednesday afternoon from the office of federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan.
The Free Press featured Gallagher’s story on Wednesday’s front page. Supervisors sent him home Tuesday because of a federal government policy forcing Canada Post staff to wear lower-quality masks at work.
Gallagher said he wanted to do whatever he could to avoid the risk of taking COVID-19 home with him, so he purchased some better-quality respirator-type masks similar to the N95 type worn by front-line health workers. The masks, when fitted properly, prevent the wearer from inhaling coronavirus particles.
But his bosses refused to let him wear them while he was on the job.
The Crown corporation said that a directive from Employment and Social Development Canada gave it no choice but to follow government guidance, which narrowly prescribed either a reusable cloth face-covering or a disposable surgical-type mask.
After media requests bounced between federal officials involved in health and Crown services, O’Regan’s office suggested Wednesday the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
"Nothing in the Canada Labour Code or Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations precludes workers from wearing a higher-quality face covering… if they would like to utilize a higher grade of mask or respirator," wrote spokeswoman Michelle Johnston.
The confusion should have never taken place, opposition parties argued.
Conservative MP Kelly McCauley said any private corporation would do the logical thing and allow an employee the choice to better protect themselves.
“I don’t blame Canada Post; I blame ESDC and Treasury Board for not having an ounce of common sense between the two of them." – Kelly McCauley
"I don’t blame Canada Post; I blame ESDC and Treasury Board for not having an ounce of common sense between the two of them," said McCauley, an Edmonton MP who is the Tory critic for the Treasury Board.
"If bureaucrats could fly a plane into a mountain and kill everyone on board, they’d claim it was a success as long as they ticked all the boxes and followed the procedures," he said.
The NDP said Liberal cabinet ministers haven’t intervened early enough to clarify or modify the policy, even though the Canadian Union of Postal Workers flagged the problem weeks ago.
"It’s rare that you can see such a poor decision from an organizational, labour/employment and health point of view," said NDP health critic Don Davies, a Vancouver MP.
"This one is like a triple-loser."
“This one is like a triple–loser.” – Don Davies
Davies said the policy will only add to suffering and labour shortages that multiple sectors are grappling with, and he finds it ironic Gallagher was sent home instead of applauded for trying to protect his family and colleagues.
"I think it’s perverse that any employer — never mind a federal government department — would have any kind of policy to discourage that."
Ever since the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus was detected in Canada, the nation’s top doctor has urged people to wear decent masks.
"If it’s a more transmissible variant, you do have to be more careful," Dr. Theresa Tam said. "Get the best-quality mask you can get your hands on."
Davies said that can happen only if Canada invests in manufacturing companies to produce more respirators and other equipment domestically.
"Many of these are working-class jobs and they deserve every measure of respect and every possible consideration within health and safety that we would give all front-line health-care workers," he said.
McCauley compared the situation with rapid tests, saying a scarcity of federally procured tests hit front-line workers hardest.
McCauley compared the situation with rapid tests, saying a scarcity of federally procured tests hit front–line workers hardest.
"There’s a worldwide shortage of them, so who’s suffering? The lower-income, the Safeway workers who don’t have the luxury of being able to sit at home in their basement and Zoom it in, like Liberal MPs have."
Gallagher said the story created a stir at work, where he was ordered to leave Tuesday using a personal leave day; supervisors have since changed it to a one-day suspension without pay.
"It seems like they missed the mark," said Gallagher, who was stunned by what O’Regan’s office shared.
"I don’t know why they’re enforcing it so hard; it’s kind of crazy (the government) said that."
He also took Wednesday off. His union is preparing to distribute N95 respirators, and he’s heard from teachers upset that Manitoba school boards are also pressuring them to not use the better masks.
"I’m trying to wrap my head around it," he said.
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"