By Steve Petrick
Haliburton County councillors are at odds over how to bring forth a COVID-19 vaccination policy that will impact workers.
A report to council from chief administrative officer Mike Rutter led to deadlock and clear frustration at the Nov. 24 council meeting, held virtually. After nearly an hour of discussion, councillors agreed to defer a decision until at least December, after more legal opinions have been sought.
A myriad of concerns were raised, such as the ethics of terminating unvaccinated employees, the dangers of having separate policies for paramedics and other employees, and how the policy would be enforced on unvaccinated councillors.
“This is tough, I don’t think anyone wants to do this, but we’ve got to land somewhere,” said Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen as the debate wrapped up. “Hopefully we can land somewhere that we can all accept.”
Rutter’s report was intended to put rules around vaccination status for councillors, committee board members, staff, volunteers and contractors who work for the county. If it has passed, it would have asked that these groups “provide proof of being fully vaccinated.” Those who aren’t fully vaccinated would have had to receive a medical exemption.
The policy also would have allowed unvaccinated staff to continue working for 45 more days if they could provide a proof of a negative Covid-19 test once per month. The policy would have been different for paramedics who would have had to provide a negative test prior to reporting to work each day, as part of a provincial policy.
The policy also stated that “continued non-compliance may result in the leave of absence being extended for such a time as deemed appropriate.”
Yet, many councillors seemed uncomfortable with a policy that could lead to termination.
“It’s the job loss part of this that I struggle with,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin later blamed council’s inability to reach consensus on the province for being “gutless” and not giving municipalities clear direction.
The meeting also got tense after Moffatt tried to express that her concerns were a matter of policy, and not to support “DNA-altering tin-foil hat wearing people” a reference to an anti-vax movement that is connected to delusional theories that exist on the fringes of the internet.
“I take offence to that,” said Dysart Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy, saying that unvaccinated people should not be mocked. “A lot of people I have spoken to are not anti-vaccination, but they’re scared. They’re concerned about what will happen to their body.”
The two later agreed that they have the same view that, ultimately, a policy to create a safe workplace has to be in place.