Get vaccinated or get out of caucus, Manitoba premier says as criticism mounts around MLA

Whether or not Tory MLA Ron Schuler is vaccinated against COVID-19 has been a point of contention among opposition parties in Manitoba.

On Wednesday, Premier Heather Stefanson tried to solve the problem with an ultimatum to all MLAs: either get vaccinated by Dec. 15 or be removed from her caucus and cabinet.

“I’ve been very clear about where we’re going with this, I have indicated that to cabinet and caucus,” Stefanson said. “It’s up to them.”

The vaccination mandate will coincide with the day that everyone entering the Manitoba Legislature must be fully inoculated.

The PC government has faced mounting pressure to impose a vaccination mandate for elected officials, bringing scrutiny to Schuler, the infrastructure minister, and his refusal to say if he’s vaccinated.

The Springfield-Ritchot MLA has argued his personal health information is private.

The Progressive Conservative caucus has said 34 of its 35 sitting MLAs are fully vaccinated, but wouldn’t specify the vaccination status of the remaining elected official, or say whether it’s been disclosed to the party.

It appears that individual would be Schuler, since the other 34 MLAs have confirmed their vaccination status — either publicly or to the Winnipeg Free Press.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler has kept mum on his vaccination status despite repeated inquiries. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

A statement from the premier’s office, confirming the vaccine mandate, made a point of acknowledging the list of those impacted by the new rules “includes the minister of infrastructure.”

The opposition NDP and Liberals say all of their MLAs are fully vaccinated.

‘Right thing to do’: Stefanson

Stefanson told reporters that requiring every member of her caucus to be fully vaccinated is “the right thing to do.” 

She said it is an extension of her earlier pledge to ensure the legislature is open only to those who are vaccinated.

“I think it’s really important that we lead by example, and I certainly have from Day 1. I was the minister responsible for setting up the vaccine implementation task force. I very much believe in vaccines. They are working.”

Beginning on Dec. 15, everyone entering the legislative building — ranging from MLAs to government staff and visitors — must provide proof they received both vaccine shots.

The premier’s spokesperson said the timeline may be moved up if the “appropriate systems are in place” earlier, in collaboration with the deputy premier, Manitoba Justice and Central Services departments.

It isn’t known if any Tory MLA will face consequences under Stefanson’s mandate.

In the period since she was sworn in as premier on Nov. 2, an MLA could have theoretically received both shots of a vaccine — with the second shot coming 28 days after the first, which is the minimum the province recommends.

That would also mean they could reach the point where they’re considered fully vaccinated — two weeks after the second shot — by Dec. 15.

While Schuler has kept mum on his vaccination status, he’s only participated in question period virtually in the last few months.

The legislative chamber, which is already restricted to two-thirds capacity, is limited to MLAs who’ve received both doses.

For months, the legislative chamber has been open only to those who are vaccinated. The entire building will be subject to the same rule beginning no later than Dec. 15. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

He was not present at October’s party convention, nor the Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention last month, where a vaccination requirement was also enforced. 

Pallister wanted vaccine mandate in August

The opposition parties decried Stefanson’s announcement as coming too late.

“It’s not much of an ultimatum coming in December of a year where every Manitoban has been told to get vaccinated,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

“At this stage, if you didn’t already get the vaccine and you’re in the government’s cabinet — what are you doing?”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the new premier is months behind former Premier Brian Pallister on this issue.

In an Aug. 24 letter, which the Liberals shared, Pallister asked Lamont and Kinew to ensure their House leaders agreed on a policy requiring all MLAs to be vaccinated. 

“It was one of the last things that Pallister did [as premier], was send a letter to me and the NDP to say, ‘Make sure all your MLAs get vaccinated’ — which wasn’t a problem because they already were,” Lamont said.

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