A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article suggesting it was time to tone down the rhetoric related to COVID-19 vaccinations. I still feel that way. People have a right to their opinions, and they have the right to express them, and we should have some tolerance for viewpoints that differ from our own. But it stops there.
I must admit that I was surprised at some of the comments I received both online and personally after writing that column and I assume I will receive more after posting this one. So be it.
One person whom I know opined that there was really no such thing as this COVID-19 pandemic — that it was fake — although they were a little more graphic than that. Their view was that this was all a manufactured ruse by large pharmaceutical companies and their friends to make billions of dollars. That blew me away.
Another person with whom I am also acquainted took me to task for not distinguishing between anti-vaxxers and those who are “vaccine hesitant”. Sorry, I don’t agree. With the exception of those who cannot be vaccinated for genuine health reasons, the bottom line is that whether you call yourself an anti-vaxxer or vaccine hesitant, you are opposed to the COVID vaccine. If you are unvaccinated, you leave yourself vulnerable and you are vulnerable to others. People who are infected with COVID-19 by someone who is unvaccinated do not really care how they style themselves.
I am not totally comfortable with forced vaccinations. It is not an easy concept for me to accept. I can understand the necessity for frontline health care workers to be fully vaccinated. In other instances, full vaccinations are certainly the best option, but regular negative test results might be acceptable — and in some instances perhaps necessary — if our society is to function with sufficient essential workers.
But most importantly, I do agree with the vast majority of scientists — those who dedicate their lives to dealing with infectious diseases — that the only way to control and eventually eradicate the COVID-19 virus along with its variants is through vaccination.
I don’t buy the conspiracy theories and I don’t buy the belief that anyone has the right to infect or endanger others because of their own personal beliefs. Consequently, I believe that all reasonable steps should be taken to have people fully vaccinated and where they cannot or will not, for whatever reason, to require regular testing and, yes, some restrictions on what they can and cannot do. I say this with respect to those who will disagree, but I say it in all seriousness.
The reality is that this pandemic is not only real, but is also not over, and a major reason for this is that the COVID-19 virus can still be spread, primarily to and by those who are not vaccinated.
Former Ontario premier, and now Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, put it this way: “The best guide to public policy on COVID-19 is that while we might quite understandably feel we are done with the virus, there is much evidence that the virus is not done with us.”
It is because we are not done with this virulent and life-changing virus, however much we would want to be, that I was less than happy with some of the political statements that came out of Conservative mouths at both the federal and provincial levels this past week.
In Ottawa, the Board of Internal Economy, consisting of members from all parties, ruled that all members of Parliament entering the House of Commons must be vaccinated. Shortly following that, Conservative house leader, Gérard Deltell, slammed this decision, saying the committee had no right to make this decision for all members of Parliament. Most Canadians will not get that nuance. It just looks like the Conservatives are a bunch of anti-vaxxers, contrary to the opinion of the vast majority of the people in this country.
Then a few days later, opposition leader Erin O’Toole said that Conservatives would respect the ruling of the Board of Internal Economy. That was good. But then, subsequently, he said that this ruling infringes on the rights of Members of Parliament. So, who the hell knows where the Conservatives really stand on the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations?
It prompts taunting media remarks such as journalist Andrew Coyne’s comment, “O’Toole strikes again – on three sides of every issue.” It’s downright embarrassing.
I know where our Member of Parliament, Scott Aitchison, stands on this matter because I asked him. He stands four-square with every able member of Parliament being fully vaccinated. He considers it a matter of leadership during a critical time. I have reason to believe that Erin O’Toole feels the same way.
Why, then, are the Conservatives in Ottawa so wishy-washy when it comes to standing up to full COVID-19 vaccines for everyone, including their own colleagues? One hundred and nineteen Conservatives were elected to Parliament in September. They have, by far, more members than any other opposition party. Reliable sources in Ottawa say that only a handful of Conservative members are unvaccinated and that only five or six members of the Conservative caucus are the real anti-vaxxers and rabid social conservatives.
So why is the tail wagging the dog here?
In my view, Andrew Coyne is right. Erin O’Toole cannot have it several ways. He must be clear about what he stands for and what he expects his caucus to stand for. Trying to cater to and appease an unimportant rump of his caucus is not working and it is not necessary. A leg on either side of the fence doesn’t help either. It simply clouds the issues and makes people wonder where the Conservative leader really stands on important matters.
At the provincial level in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford also made a mistake this past week. He announced, on behalf of his government, a timetable for bringing the province out of COVID-19 restrictions. Most of it makes sense, with his caveat that COVID-19 infections continue to decrease and that more people get vaccinated.
But setting January 17, just two-and-a-half months from now, as the time when proof of vaccination will no longer be required is a huge lack of judgement. It is a mistake, and the decision needs to be reversed.
The COVID-19 virus is not going away quickly, and neither should the requirement to prove full vaccination for most, if not all purposes of public safety. Setting such an early date to dispense with proof of vaccination simply caters to anti-vaxxers and gives them another excuse to ignore current COVID requirements and just wait it out for another eight weeks or so.
It is also dangerous to others. It suggests an arbitrary date at which the danger of infection from the COVID-19 will be over, and it won’t matter who is and who is not vaccinated. That is simply not the case. As long as it can find a host, this COVID virus will be with us.
While it makes sense to gradually decrease the number of pandemic-related requirements, proof of vaccination should be the last to go.
And it shouldn’t be soon. It’s all about taking reasonable steps.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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