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Council approves proof of vaccine policy after rancorous debate

During its Oct. 12 regular meeting, council voted 5-1 twice to approve proof of vaccination policies for city employees and for contractors who operate on city premises. Coun. Kim Robinson was opposed to both motions.
Moose Jaw City Hall
Moose Jaw City Hall (Shutterstock)

City council has approved new guidelines and policies for proof of vaccination for city employees and contractors, but only after engaging in a rancorous discussion that included veiled personal insults.

During its Oct. 12 regular meeting, council voted 5-1 twice to approve proof of vaccination policies for city employees and for contractors who operate on city premises. 

Coun. Kim Robinson was opposed to both motions.

Meanwhile, council voted unanimously to approve guidelines for masking and proof of vaccination for all recreational venues and Mosaic Place. 

Since he is opposed to coercing people to take vaccines, Robinson introduced the first two recommendations as negative motions to ensure they failed. However, council voted 5-1 both times against this act and, due to insight from acting city clerk Tracy Wittke, approved the motions in the affirmative.

Policies’ focus

City staff and contractors have until Sunday, Oct. 31, to indicate whether they are fully vaccinated. If they are not fully vaccinated or choose not to provide their status, then starting Monday, Nov. 1, they will have to take weekly COVID-19 rapid tests and provide those results to city hall. 

“Personnel who refuse to comply with the requirements of this policy will not be permitted onto city premises and may be subject to consequences, which may include disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment,” the policy said, while contractors would be denied entry onto city premises. 

During the meeting, council voted 5-1 to have the city pay for all rapid tests for unvaccinated employees until Friday, Dec. 31. Council would then review the issue during 2022 budget deliberations.

Robinson was opposed.

Video of the discussion can be found here and starts at 43:10.

The rapid tests are expected to cost $90 per unit.

Let the debate begin

Acting Mayor Dawn Luhning admitted that she was unsure as an elected official how she could insist that people do something to themselves that they don’t want to do — take the vaccine — for whatever reason. 

“I’m not sure we should be telling employees that they must get vaccinated by a certain date,” she said, noting city hall’s work-from-home policy should apply to those unvaccinated staff until the province provides more direction. 

While Luhning personally believed that residents should be vaccinated, as the acting mayor, she struggled with telling staff that they must get the jab or their employment was in jeopardy. 

“The intent is not to force people to get vaccinated … ,” said city manager Jim Puffalt. “You have a choice to make. The choice is to get vaccinated, and if not, provide a negative test. It would be logistically difficult to allow people to work from home for the sole reason that they do not want to get vaccinated.”

City hall conducted a voluntary survey in September to determine how many staff were vaccinated. While not everyone responded, the results showed the percentage was higher than the provincial average. However, Puffalt refused to say in public what actual percentage that was.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we as a city are trying to mandate and tell people that they have to go out and get vaccinated,” Robinson said, noting council is infringing upon people’s Charter rights and freedoms and heading down a slippery slope. 

What council is doing is changing employees’ conditions of employment because when they were hired, they weren’t told they had to acquire a vaccination or pay for tests, he continued. 

“For us to say you must go out and get vaccinated or your job is in jeopardy is totally wrong and I won’t support this one iota,” Robinson said, adding he preferred to have the city pay for the rapid tests. 

Shifting goalposts 

After Robinson introduced the main motions in the negative, Luhning said she opposed that intention since city council must follow the province’s guidelines, just as businesses do. That is why people must be vaccinated or show a negative test.

“What guidelines should we follow?” wondered Robinson. 

He pointed out the premier and CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority both said on June 30 that vaccination mandates were unnecessary. Moreover, the health minister has said such mandates infringe on people’s rights. 

The province has issued several instructions since the summer about what people are to do, he continued. Meanwhile, it’s likely — based on the experience of Israel — that people will need a fourth booster shot, which shows how poor the vaccine’s effectiveness is. 

“The goalposts keep moving,” Robinson said, reiterating that council does not have the right to change employees’ condition of employment.

The city is not mandating that employees be vaccinated but is only saying they must provide proof or a negative test, replied Luhning. 

No winners

There are no winners in this debate, but council must make decisions that protect the community and city employees, said Coun. Heather Eby. 

Eby, who is running for mayor, indicated that people have emailed her saying they would not vote for her, depending upon how she voted on this issue. Shrugging, she said that however council decides, people will strongly disagree. That is why council members must vote according to their conscience.

“We are following a higher level of government, the province of Saskatchewan. I’m trusting those guys,” she added. “And I’m glad that this is not, ‘You have to go get vaccinated.’ I would not have supported that.”

In response, Robinson said that if any councillor running for mayor is worried about how residents will vote for them based on their decisions, they are on council for the wrong reasons. 

“I’m not anti-vax by any means. I’m pro-your-choice,” he added.

Undue hardship

Coun. Jamey Logan was also opposed to forcing people to be vaccinated, pointing out the policy does force staff to get the jab. He thought this would create unnecessary problems for single parents, especially if they had to pay $90 per week for a test. He thought the city should foot the bill for those tests.

“There is enough hardship in the world. Let’s not do this to these employees at this time,” he added.

Coun. Crystal Froese agreed with Logan, adding vaccinations will prevent another shutdown of the economy, which would destroy businesses already struggling. 

The next regular council meeting is Monday, Oct. 25.