No vaccine mandates forthcoming in Atlantic Canada, but musings from N.B. Premier
A push from the federal government for provinces and territories to consider a sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate has largely been met with reluctance in Atlantic Canada, but to varying degrees.
In an interview Tuesday, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said there was no mandatory vaccine policy forthcoming in the province. However, Higgs said that could change if COVID-19 hospitalizations keep rising.
“If we find that we continue to revolve around the pandemic, we continue to have issues in hospitals, and there continues to be an infectious scenario, there has to be a long-term solution,” he said.
Higgs didn’t expand on what any potential mandatory policy might look like in New Brunswick, but expressed doubt about Quebec’s plan to impose 'significant' financial penalties against unvaccinated residents.
“That’s a slippery slope in relation to the public health-care system,” said Higgs. “Because where does it stop at the end of the day? Does it carry on into other factors of looking after one’s health? If it costs more because you don’t look after your health to service your needs, where does it end?"
Higgs said Quebec’s recent decision to extend vaccine passports to provincial alcohol and cannabis stores had already been effective ahead of its Jan. 18 start.
“What we have seen first hand is when people get personally impacted, they have more of a tendency to get vaccinated,” said Higgs.
On Monday, New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province was focused on encouraging people to get vaccinated.
“I can’t predict what the future is going to bring,” said Shephard.
Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness said it’s avoiding any across-the-board vaccine mandate.
“Our focus continues to be supporting Nova Scotians to make an informed decision about vaccinations,” according to a written statement from the department on Monday.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said the province’s vaccination policy for public sector and health-care employees was “already” enough of a mandate, in an interview with CTV’s Power Play on Monday.
Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King said there are “very few remaining vaccine hesitant people” in the province.
“I don’t know if we mandate a vaccine other than holding people down and putting it in their arm, which is something we would never do… I don’t know how we would get to that level,” said King on Tuesday.
On Friday, Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said a mandatory vaccination policy, which would be under the authority of provincial and territorial governments, should be considered with the Omicron variant stretching the country’s health-care system “too thin.”
Dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said education and encouragement should continue to be the vaccination strategy for now.
“Mandating is a whole other ballgame and I don’t think we’re there just yet,” said MacMillan.
“We don’t want to have to force anybody to do anything. We want people to make their own decision. But we want them to get the information to make that decision from an appropriate source, whether it be from their physician, nurse practitioner, their allied health care professional, or from public health. Reach out, ask the questions, we’ll give you the answer you need.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said it’s monitoring the discussion happening across the country, adding there would be legal challenges if any sweeping vaccine mandate went ahead.
“I think politicians are sometimes floating these ideas to get a sense of what the public appetite is like, what does public opinion say about some of these things” says Cara Zwibel, a lawyer with the association. “But I do think it shows a really sort of cavalier attitude about fundamental rights and freedoms.”
An earlier version of this story has been updated to include comments from New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King, and Canadian Civil Liberties Association lawyer Cara Zwibel.