Shelly Glover may be "dangerously" sowing seeds of doubt about COVID-19 vaccines to win over the Tory party's base, but she should expect blowback if she wins and runs for premier in 2023 in Manitoba, where the majority approves of vaccine passports and the need for pandemic restrictions, health and political experts say.
In an interview with the right-wing Western Standard weekly Wednesday, Glover supported those who don't believe in COVID-19 vaccinations.
"They have legitimate reasons for not wanting to take the vaccination. Many had COVID. They believe their natural immunities are stronger than the vaccinations," she told the Alberta-based publication that is peppered with Peoples Party of Canada advertisements.
"To not have any other options but vaccinate, get tested, or get out, that’s irresponsible when it comes to our patients," said Glover, who did not respond to a Free Press interview request on Thursday.
"To not have any other options but vaccinate, get tested, or get out, that’s irresponsible when it comes to our patients." –Shelly Glover
The former Conservative MP and police officer is running against Heather Stefanson, the MLA for Tuxedo and former health minister, who wasn't made available for an interview but issued a statement.
"Heather will always take the advice of trusted health-care professionals, doctors and scientific experts to make decisions," her campaign said in response to the Western Standard article. "We are in support of public health, and feel it is irresponsible to go against science-based facts."
The article was published days before new public health orders take effect in Manitoba. As of Monday, people who work directly with vulnerable populations must go on unpaid leave if they won't provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
In it, Glover said she would never allow ICU patients to be transferred out of province and that if and when she's premier, she'll enlist "more experts" to advise Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer.
"In Manitoba, we haven’t talked about treatments. When you talk about science, vaccinations and treatment go hand in hand. I would love to bring in immunologists or virologists who have knowledge in this science to speak to treatments, developing faster rapid testing, those kinds of things."
On Thursday, a professor in the faculty of law and the school of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa called Glover's comments "scientifically ignorant," "extremely dangerous" and so arrogantly incorrect they're in "Donald Trump territory."
"Here she comes, as a gun-slinging cop, pretending she understands immunity and what the right choices are," Prof. Amir Attaran said. "They're not political choices. They're not law enforcement choices. They're scientific choices," said Attaran, who railed against Glover asserting that natural immunity is stronger than vaccination and a legitimate reason not to get immunized.
"That's wrong. We know that. Natural infection produces a sort of immunity which is clearly inferior to vaccine-mediated immunity. This is not remotely in question. And so for her to say, or to lend credence to the idea... I think she's dangerously, scientifically ignorant and to vote for her is to risk one's life — I would be as blunt as that," Attaran said.
"If she's premier, she has a great deal of influence," he said. "(She) lacks the humility to stay in her lane and if she doesn't stay in her lane, she will kill people," he said.
"(Glover) lacks the humility to stay in her lane and if she doesn't stay in her lane, she will kill people." –Amir Attaran
Or at least kill her chances of being elected premier in the 2023 election in Manitoba, where most people support vaccination and public health orders, said Brandon University political science professor Kelly Saunders.
"She's going against the tide of what the vast majority of Manitobans are doing and where they stand on this issue, according to opinion polls," Saunders said Thursday.
"The vast majority of us have been vaccinated and support vaccinations," she said. "We might not like public health restrictions, but we recognize the need for them and we abide by them. We wear our masks and we social distance and we do all the right things," she said.
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"She's really trying to tap into the anti-vax base in the province — segments of the PC party that share those views," Saunders said. On Oct. 30, PC party members will vote for a new leader, who will automatically become premier.
"She's really trying to win over those voters — the new people that (disqualified PC leadership candidate) Ken Lee brought into the party and sold memberships to, who supported the PPC and their ideas," said the political expert.
If Glover wins the PC leadership and becomes premier, sowing the seeds of vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic will be part of her legacy that Manitobans won't forget because the opposition will make sure of it, Saunders said.
"She's going to have to face voters in two years and wear these statements that she's made," Saunders said.
"She's playing a dangerous game."
Carol Sanders Legislature reporter
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew has accused Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Shelly Glover's campaign of trying to use his party to do her "dirty work" in going after her opponent Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson.
"We're calling it out," Kinew told reporters after raising the matter in the legislature Thursday.
He said Glover's campaign contacted the NDP last week saying it had information that would damage Stefanson's bid to be leader. Screenshots that the NDP provided to the Free Press show Stefanson's campaign selling $20 party memberships online and saying that after tax deductions, they actually cost only $5.
"The fact that you have the Glover campaign reaching out to the NDP, to try and throw shade at Heather Stefanson, shows me they will say and do anything to get elected. Given all the anti-vax comments we've been hearing from Shelly Glover, I'm asking myself 'is that another example of saying and doing anything to get elected?' If so, that's very dangerous because we know everyone in Manitoba needs to get vaccinated," Kinew said.
"I want everyone to get vaccinated. We all know the science is settled. Vaccines are safe and effective."