Some concerned UCP putting politics ahead of public health with vaccine passport survey

Some Albertans are concerned the United Conservatives are politicizing COVID-19 vaccine passports, after launching a feedback survey on the subject that asks for donations once filled out.

Vaccine passports — proof of vaccination that allows people to visit places or events where the risk of transmission is high — have been a topic of discussion for several months. Some jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario, have announced vaccine passports.

The United Conservative Party launched a feedback survey in July to learn how supporters felt about vaccine passports. But many Albertans only recently became aware of the survey, and some feel the party is letting politics dictate how to approach a public health issue.

“What we’ve seen throughout this pandemic is a really problematic situation, where politics, rather than public health, has driven vaccine passports,” said Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s faculty of law and Cummings school of medicine.

“I don’t want the government to care what their voters think about vaccine passports. I want their No. 1 concern, right now, to be their evidence.”

The No Vaccine Passports Survey states that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stands against mandating vaccine passports and that they would violate individuals’ privacy rights. The party also doesn’t want the federal government to step in on this matter, as health care is a provincial responsibility.

Alberta has the lowest vaccination rates in the country among people aged 12 or older, according to CBC News’ vaccine tracker. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The survey asks, “Do you stand against domestic vaccine passports in Canada?”

Respondents can select one of three answers: yes, no, or unsure. They then must fill in contact information to submit their answer.

But once someone clicks submit, they are directed to a page that thanks them for the feedback and asks for a donation to the party. An email is also sent to the respondent with the same.

“We issued that survey back in July to hear more from people. The survey is not new,” a party spokesperson told CBC News in an email.

The spokesperson did not provide answers to several questions posed about the survey. CBC News requested an interview with someone from the party but has not heard back.

Feedback surveys such as this are a common practise because they inform political parties on how supporters feel about certain actions. Asking for donations that will eventually be spent on advertising and political campaigns is also common, explained John Church, a health policy expert at the University of Alberta.

Survey respondents receive an email, shown here, after submitting their feedback on vaccine passports. (Nicholas Frew/CBC)

The Opposition NDP has also released how they would approach vaccine passports, he cited.

“That’s a pretty normal process. And it takes on greater importance when you can’t physically get together with these people in the same way that we would under normal times,” Church said.

UCP has obligation to protect

Awareness of the survey comes amid an escalating fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta. Health officials are working to free up space in the health-care system, while vaccine uptake has relatively plateaued since the end of July.

Provincially, nearly 71 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and up have received two doses of vaccine, while nearly 79 per cent of eligible people got the first jab as of Sept. 9.

Both rates are the lowest in the country, according to CBC News’ vaccine tracker.

Provincial officials, namely Health Minister Tyler Shandro, have recently been pressed on whether they will implement vaccine passports, as data shows vaccine uptake rises in jurisdictions that announce that initiative.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has previously said the decision falls on politicians. The UCP has balked at the concept. 

The party is politicizing the issue by appealing to their supporters and arguing vaccine passports infringe on individual freedoms while failing to explain the obligations of governance, Church said.

As the party in power, the United Conservatives have a responsibility to protect Albertans when they are all threatened. A global pandemic would qualify as such an emergency, he said.

“Whatever individual freedoms you might have, you have to put those freedoms on hold for the good of everybody at that moment in time. That is what freedoms mean in liberal democracies,” he said.

“It’s always a balance between the needs of the few and the needs of the many, and the rights of the few and the rights of the many.”

Instead, the government is pandering to a small portion of Albertans refusing “to do the right thing for the benefit of everyone,” he said.

Opposition NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman believes the survey, and asking for donations, is offensive. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Alberta NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman finds the survey and donation request offensive, given the current COVID-19 situation.

“That’s cold and cruel, and it is harmful for people who are counting on the government to actually show some leadership,” Hoffman told CBC News.

“It’s disrespectful of all those people in hospital right now fighting for their lives. It’s disrespectful of everyone who works in health care, who are beyond exhausted and continuing to get pushed to the brink.”

If the United Conservatives stand firm on this stance, they will be taking the wrong side of this public health issue, she said.

Hardcastle suggests the UCP government ought to review the impact vaccine passports have had on uptake in jurisdictions that have implemented them, then emulate the strategy that works best, she said.

Hardcastle believes the province will have to implement them eventually. If they do, the public will be more reluctant than if the United Conservatives had been open to the concept from the jump, she said.

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