OAKBANK — Mixed feelings abound in the constituency of Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Schuler, who has refused to disclose his COVID-19 vaccination status on numerous occasions.
The Free Press has surveyed all 57 MLAs in the Manitoba legislature about their individual vaccine status, and Schuler has been exceptionally opaque.
His constituency office in Oakbank has diverted questions about whether the Springfield-Ritchot MLA has received one, two or no COVID-19 vaccine doses to the political staff who handle queries for his role as infrastructure minister.
"I cannot comment on any personal health information," spokeswoman Miranda Dubé wrote Wednesday, adding Schuler will speak with media at an unrelated news conference Thursday.
The PC caucus said last week two of its 36 MLAs had not had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine; Seine River MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte dismissed questions as a personal matter. All NDP and Liberal MLAs are fully vaccinated.
The NDP Opposition has urged any MLA with a medical reason to not be vaccinated to make that fact public, to illustrate the importance of everyone else getting their shots.
Residents of Niverville and the rural municipalities of Springfield and Ritchot, which make up Schuler’s provincial riding, weighed in on their MLA’s non-disclosure.
Ritchot Mayor Chris Ewen declined comment, writing: "It has been my policy from Day 1 of the pandemic to not bring municipal government or personal opinion into the pandemic media."
Springfield Mayor Tiffany Fell backed Schuler: "I think his personal health decisions need to remain personal."
Amongst the constituency, no clear majority of opinion emerged. However, of those who agreed to speak to media, all but two agreed to disclose their vaccination status and all but three said they’d received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Sara Matwychuk, owner of Talk to the Tail, a dog daycare in Niverville, said she suspects any such non-disclosure means one thing.
"I think if you are vaccinated, you’re willing to share it; and I think if you’re not, you’re not," Matwychuk said, adding she has had two doses of vaccine.
As an MLA, Schuler has a responsibility to be open about whether or not he has been vaccinated, she said.
"As business owners and small-business owners who are vaccinated, and who are getting that done to protect our clients and our customers and our community, I’m willing to share that information. So I think it would be in his best interest."
Others, such as St. Adolphe resident Dana Coulson, said no one should be required to give out personal health information.
"If he doesn’t want to, I personally don’t feel he should have to," she said of the area MLA.
Coulson had a more insular focus when it came to vaccinations.
"My whole family is (vaccinated), so I don’t really care what he’s doing or what other people are doing, because I know that my family is protected. And that’s all I care about."
Several people who wouldn’t give their names to a Free Press reporter had similar arguments: it’s a personal choice.
However, Schuler’s public position makes that view hard to swallow for Denis Gobeil, owner of Good 'N Tension autobody shop in St. Adolphe. "You’re supposed to be an example."
Gobeil said politicians should be held to a higher standard than the general population. With the provincial government laying out rules requiring citizens to disclose vaccination status in order to eat indoors at restaurants or, eventually, attend Winnipeg Blue Bombers games, Gobeil said the public has the right to know the same of elected officials.
"People should know. Don’t you think people should know?"
Gobeil wouldn’t go so far as to say Premier Brian Pallister should remove Schuler from Tory cabinet or caucus, but the premier should "have a chat with him" about his vaccination silence.
In Oakbank, Shear Madness Hair Salon co-owners Katie Garrett and Sheryl Bradley defended Schuler adamantly, despite the long closures in their industry due to pandemic public health restrictions.
"I honestly support him not sharing his personal health information. It’s no one else’s business," said Garrett, adding she’s glad to have someone higher up seeming to take a position that reflects her personal stance.
Neither Garrett nor Bradley would say if they’ve received any dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Bradley said the provincial government — led by Schuler’s PC party — is discriminating against those who choose not to get immunized or not share their status, by granting special permissions to those who can prove they’re fully vaccinated.
This disparity between the position of the governing Tory party and one of its MLAs didn’t sit well with Al Trudeau of Île des Chênes.
"Everybody should be on the same page. He’s part of Pallister’s team, so he should act it," he said.
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"