A push from the federal government for provinces and territories to consider a sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate has been met with much reluctance in Atlantic Canada, but to varying degrees.
In an interview Tuesday, New Brunswick Prime Minister Blaine Higgs said there will be no mandatory vaccine policy in the province. However, Higgs said that could change if the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 continues to rise.
“If we find that we continue to revolve around the pandemic, we continue to have problems in hospitals and a contagious scenario persists, then there has to be a long-term solution,” he said.
Higgs did not comment on what a possible mandatory policy could look like in New Brunswick, but expressed doubts about Quebec’s plan to impose “significant” financial sanctions on unvaccinated residents.
“That’s a slippery slope with regard to the public health care system,” Higgs said. “Because where does it end at the end of the day? Does it pass into other factors of taking care of one’s health? If it costs more because you don’t take care of your health to meet your needs, where does it end?”
Higgs said Quebec’s recent decision to extend vaccine passports to provincial alcohol and cannabis stores was effective before its Jan. 18 launch.
“What we’ve seen firsthand is that when people are personally affected, they’re more likely to get vaccinated,” Higgs said.
On Monday, New Brunswick’s Health Secretary Dorothy Shephard said the province was aiming to encourage people to get vaccinated.
“I can’t predict what the future will bring,” Shephard said.
Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Welfare said it is avoiding any blanket vaccine mandate.
“Our focus continues to support Nova Scotians to make an informed decision about vaccinations,” the department said in a written statement on Monday.
Newfoundland and Labrador Prime Minister Andrew Furey said in an interview with CTV’s Power Play Monday that the province’s vaccination policies for public sector and health care workers were “already” mandated enough.
Prince Edward Island Prime Minister Dennis King said there are “very few people who are still hesitant to get vaccines” in the province.
“I don’t know if we’re going to require a vaccine other than stopping people and putting it in their arm, which is something we would never do…I don’t know how we can get to that level,” King said on Tuesday.
On Friday, federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos said a mandatory vaccination policy, which would fall under the authority of provincial and territorial governments, should be considered, with the Omicron variant “stretching too thin” the country’s health care system.
dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said education and encouragement should remain the vaccination strategy for the time being.
“Mandate is a very different game and I don’t think we’re there yet,” MacMillan said.
“We don’t want to force anyone into anything. We want people to decide for themselves. But we want them to get the information to make that decision from an appropriate source, whether it’s their doctor, nurse practitioner, their allied health professional, or public health. Reach out, ask the questions, we’ll give you the answer you need.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said it is monitoring the discussion across the country, adding that there would be legal issues if a sweeping vaccine mandate went through.
“I think politicians sometimes bring these ideas forward to get a sense of what public opinion is like, what public opinion is saying about some of these things,” said Cara Zwibel, a lawyer with the association. “But I do think it shows a really arrogant attitude towards fundamental rights and freedoms.”