In a decisive vote of 205 to 114, the federal government rejected Bill C-278, an initiative aimed at preventing the imposition of vaccination mandates for employment and travel under several key Canadian acts. This move marked a setback for the Conservative party, with other House parties perceived as endorsing what they saw as “unjustified abuses of federal power” going forward.
Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre, the bill’s sponsor, stated that the legislation targeted the perceived overreach of federal policies and unwarranted exercise of government power. The bill, had it passed, would have prohibited the reinstatement of COVID vaccine mandates under significant legislations like the Canada Labour Code, Aeronautics Act, Railway Safety Act, and Canada Shipping Act.
The bill’s context was partially shaped by cases like that of Engineer Louison Tessier, who, despite being unvaccinated, was let go by his employer, Via Rail, months before the vaccine mandate for rail employees was lifted. This decision was later contested by labor arbitrator Graham Clarke, who argued that VIA did not have sufficient grounds for Tessier’s dismissal.
Conversely, a separate case saw an Ontario healthcare worker, Anthony Cecchetto, losing his job at Lakeridge Health for non-compliance with the institution’s COVID jab and testing policy. This led to Cecchetto being denied Employment Insurance benefits.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet expressed regret over the bill being tabled, emphasizing the critical role vaccines played during the pandemic. They highlighted that the intent was always to encourage informed and voluntary vaccination, rather than enforcing mandates.
Research revealed a stark divide in public opinion on mandates, with Liberal supporters generally more in favor, while Conservative-leaning demographics tended to oppose them. The 2021 federal election reflected this divide, with Trudeau winning re-election with 32.6% of the popular vote, framing the issue as a matter of public health and safety.
Former Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre both criticized Trudeau for what they perceived as a divisive approach to the vaccine mandate issue. Morneau condemned the polarization caused by the mandates, while Poilievre accused the Prime Minister of unfairly categorizing unvaccinated Canadians.
Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) criticized certain factions within the Conservative Party for what he saw as a lack of action against what he deemed “authoritarian COVID mandates” over the past two years. He viewed their current stance on vaccine mandates for federal employees as a politically motivated move.
In summary, the rejection of Bill C-278 signified a significant divergence in perspectives on vaccine mandates within the Canadian political landscape. While some viewed it as a safeguard against perceived federal overreach, others saw it as a potential hindrance to public health measures. The bill’s defeat underscores the complexity and division surrounding this contentious issue.