The territorial government says it is assessing the federal government’s plan on mandatory vaccines for public servants before it takes a position on the subject.
In an email, a cabinet communications spokesperson wrote that the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) will be conducting “jurisdictional scans” to determine what other provinces and territories are doing.
Mandatory vaccines in public servants has been a major topic since the campaign began for the upcoming federal election.
But it’s one that hasn’t reached the NWT yet despite the vaccinations hitting a lull months ago.
The entire country, including the NWT, has been dealing with a Delta Variant fueled fourth wave, accelerated in populations with low vaccination rates.
An election time question
On the campaign trail Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says public servants that refuse to be vaccinated could face consequences.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said something similar, whereas Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said he would require unvaccinated employees to pass a rapid test rather than face repercussions.
According to the Ipsos poll, 80 per cent of Canadians are in favour of mandating vaccines for public servants.
The territory’s vaccination rate has been stuck at 74 per cent of eligible adults fully vaccinated.
The territorial government launched the “Drive to 75” campaign to hit 75 per cent fully vaccinated.
Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, says this is something he would support.
“I support mandatory vaccines for public servants, especially those regularly working with the public and vulnerable populations. We’re now seeing a fourth wave driven by unvaccinated residents diminish health services for everyone,” he wrote.
However, he says it’s a safe guess that a large percentage of the 6,000 GNWT employees are already vaccinated.
CKLB reached out to the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) to see if it would support mandatory vaccination.
Todd Parsons, UNW president, said although the territorial government has not announced anything on mandatory vaccinations, the UNW supports plans that “support safe workplaces and protect community members, especially the most vulnerable.”
“We know that vaccinations are the most effective way to fight COVID, and employers have an obligation to ensure our workplaces are safe for everyone. The UNW supports measures to increase vaccination rates,” he wrote in an email.
He said the UNW would be concerned with policies that would call for workers to be disciplined for not receiving the vaccine, echoing the federal government’s employee union.
Parsons writes the government must consult with the UNW on their plans if they decide to implement this strategy.
“The UNW encourages all members who are able to get the vaccination, to get vaccinated. We also urge employers to consult with us meaningfully – not just use us as a check box. We want to ensure the safety of our members and also protect their rights in the workplace,” he wrote.
In the classroom
With under two weeks until students return to the classroom, there is concern of further spread of the virus in youth who are ineligible for the vaccine.
This brings the question of whether vaccines should be mandatory for those who work with the vulnerable, including teachers.
A cabinet communications spokesperson said again, the GNWT is assessing before making a decision.
However, Matthew Miller, the President of the NWT Teachers’ Association, says this is a subject being discussed with members.
“While many of our members are currently fully vaccinated, some may not have been vaccinated to date for various reasons,” he writes, “we are in discussions with our legal counsel and executive team about the possibility of mandatory vaccines for our members. Through those conversations, the NWTTA will ensure the rights of our members are respected while prioritizing a safe return to school.”
Teachers are set to begin returning to the classroom as early as Monday, Aug. 23.