THUNDER BAY - The leader of Ontario’s Official Opposition has backtracked on comments opposing mandatory vaccination policies for education and health workers, after a flurry of blowback.
Ontario NPD leader Andrea Horwath said in a CBC interview Wednesday requiring vaccination could violate rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that alternatives such as regular testing should be available for workers.
That drew criticism from the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario and high-profile federal NDP MP Charlie Angus, among others.
In a statement issued Thursday, Horwath said she regretted the comments and will “fully support mandatory vaccination in health care and education.”
However, she didn’t clarify whether she still believes the step would violate charter rights, as Premier Doug Ford has suggested.
“On Wednesday I made a mistake suggesting a mandatory vaccine policy during a global pandemic should take a back seat to charter rights. I regret the comment. I was wrong… This unprecedented time requires unprecedented actions.”
Thunder Bay–Atikokan MPP Judith Monteith-Farrell, a New Democrat, said the reversal was a result of Horwath listening to public feedback.
“I think [it’s] listening to people and really understanding that there are a lot of sides to this issue,” she said, noting her office fields many calls from constituents opposed to mandatory vaccinations.
Those concerns shouldn’t be taken lightly, she said, but voiced her support for mandatory vaccinations for health and education workers.
She offered limited comment on whether vaccines should be made mandatory in other situations, such as to enter businesses or attend public events.
Ford, meanwhile, has said his government will not institute mandatory vaccine policies for health or education workers, nor will it require them for eligible students this year. He’s also shot down calls from business groups and others for a more general provincial proof-of-vaccination system.
Liberal leader Steven Del Duca has supported mandatory vaccines for education and health workers.
Over 80 per cent of Ontarians have received at least one vaccine dose, and around 72 per cent are fully vaccinated.