New Brunswick may consider making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory down the road, says Premier Blaine Higgs.
“I think it’s something that will get further discussion in New Brunswick, and probably across the country,” said Higgs during an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics on Jan. 10, following his call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the other premiers.
Higgs was responding to a question as to whether the province will follow a proposal by federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos who said on Jan. 7 that he believes provinces and territories should consider making the vaccines mandatory for all at some point.
The topic, however, received “very limited discussion” during the premiers’ call with Trudeau, according to Higgs.
“There are varying views across the country,” he said, while noting that before the pandemic his province had previously proposed legislation to make vaccinations mandatory for children in schools and daycares unless they have a medical exemption.
“I voted for [a] mandatory vaccine policy,” he said. “It didn’t pass.”
The bill was introduced by the province’s Education Minister Dominic Cardy back in 2019, which sought to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccinations. It was defeated in a free vote on Jun 18, 2020 among the four political parties in the legislature.
Higgs said some people will consider getting the COVID-19 vaccines only when it affects them “personally.”
“We’ve seen it: whether your kids’ on the sports team, and you want to go to the kids’ game, or in Quebec, … you want to go to liquor store, you have to be vaccinated. When it affects people personally, then it seems to become readily an option,” he said.
He said he agreed with a comment from the CBC host that Canadians’ patience is “wearing thin” on the unvaccinated, saying the vaccinated don’t see why they have to continue enduring restrictions when they have “gone the extra mile” to get vaccinated.
“So it is becoming more and more of an issue, and I would just like to think that we can manage and get over the 90 percent [vaccination rate] and maintain that with boosters and all and it’ll kind of be okay,” he said.
“But it is a dialogue that we likely will have again.”
Higgs, who tested positive for COVID-19 in late December with a rapid test, told reporters in a video briefing in Fredericton on Dec. 31, 2021, that because he was “double vaccinated” and had a booster vaccine, his symptoms will remain “mild.”
On Jan. 6, CBC reported that several members of the premier’s immediate family also tested positive for COVID-19. They too were fully vaccinated and received a booster shot.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period on Jan. 9, Higgs said while it’s uncertain whether the unvaccinated will jeopardize the province’s health system eventually, he will step up to the “next level” if necessary.
“If we continually have outbreaks of the 10 percent that refuse to be vaccinated, then we have to go to the next level,” he said.
Not all premiers echoed Higgs’s sentiment.
Shortly after Duclos’s press conference on Jan. 7, Alberta Premier Jason Kenny rejected the idea of mandatory vaccinations in a social media post.
While still encouraging people to get vaccinated, Kenney said it is a personal choice.
“Alberta’s legislature removed the power of mandatory vaccination from the Public Health Act last year and will not revisit that decision, period,” he wrote on Twitter on Jan. 7.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took a similar stand as Kenny.
“While we strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated to protect yourself and others from serious illness, in Saskatchewan this is a personal choice, not one imposed on you by the government,” Moe wrote in a statement the same day.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.