"If we mandate people to be vaccinated, we’re actually telling them that they have to put something in their bodies that they may be afraid of, that their own doctors may have told them might harm them, and that I’m firm on — I will not support mandated vaccines."
— Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Shelly Glover
Shelly Glover may have just unwittingly handed her main rival in the race to replace Brian Pallister a rather large and unexpected gift.
During her campaign launch on Friday, Glover told gathered reporters that she opposes the upcoming requirement for some front-line workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a CBC report.
While fully vaccinated herself — and fully supportive of vaccination efforts — she said it’s divisive to make people feel forced to get vaccinated.
"If we mandate people to be vaccinated, we’re actually telling them that they have to put something in their bodies that they may be afraid of, that their own doctors may have told them might harm them."
Not only does that position place her at odds with two other candidates who are vying to lead the Manitoba Tories — MLAs Heather Stefanson and Shannon Martin — but it would appear to contradict the prevailing political winds.
Less than a month ago, polling firm Ipsos published a poll that suggested a majority of Canadians agree with recently announced federal mandatory vaccinations for federal public servants — about 80 per cent — and a requirement for proof of vaccination for flying on an airplane, which came out at 82 per cent. There was similar support for mandatory vaccinations among health-care workers at 84 per cent, and 81 per cent for teachers, as well as 72 per cent for vaccine passports to enter restaurants, gyms or other indoor spaces.
Considering that more than 80 per cent of Manitobans were vaccinated before mandatory vaccinations were called for by the Manitoba Tories for government workers, health-care workers and teachers, it’s likely that a sizable majority of Manitobans would be reflected in those Ipsos numbers.
In fact, Glover’s announcement puts her in similar company to fringe leadership candidate Ken Lee, a former PC party finance official who has announced his intention to seek the leadership with a platform that seeks to end vaccine passports, and seeks to remove vaccination as a job requirement — even though affected workers have the option to be tested for COVID-19 three days a week instead of being vaccinated.
She suggested to reporters that she wants to "renew, refresh and restore the party." But she also said she was adamant that vaccine mandates in this province have gone too far, and that she was undecided whether restricting indoor restaurant dining and sporting events to those who have had both vaccinations was the correct response by the government.
"I was never at that table, so I don’t know exactly what decisions were made based on what information," she said.
Until now, Glover was being perceived in many circles as the front-runner in the Tory leadership race — she was also first out of the gate as of Friday to officially enter the race, after signing up the needed 1,000 members and paying the rather high entry fee of $25,000.
Glover essentially came out a few weeks ago suggesting that she has what it takes to keep the Progressive Conservatives in power come the next election and keep the NDP in the Opposition seats — and that Stefanson does not.
But the retired Winnipeg police officer and former federal cabinet minister has seemingly stumbled out of the starting gate.
We have to wonder if her campaign staff were caught unawares by her decision to come out against vaccine mandates. Surely savvy campaign managers would have attempted to dissuade her from making such a misstep, given the public mood, and the difficult decisions that had to be made by the previous Pallister administration.
Of course, she may not see stating her viewpoint on this topic as a misstep, even though it runs contrary to prevailing wisdom and common sense. The "freedom" vote, after all, tends to base itself on junk science and misinformation. She is, of course, entitled to her opinion.
But with health officials sounding the alarm for unvaccinated individuals in our province as a fourth wave is underway in much of Canada, having a newly installed premier question the need for mandatory vaccinations only undermines the government’s push to reach more Manitobans with the message that vaccines work and are necessary for society to reach the end of the pandemic.
If Stefanson is smart, she will use that information to her advantage.