West Nipissing council voted unanimously to adopt the municipality’s mandatory vaccine policy for employees at their Jan. 6 meeting.
The vote was held after a presentation by Dave Lewington, a private citizen who wanted to challenge the mandatory policy but was unable to change any minds on council.
“Unfortunately for me, you’re welcome for uniting council,” said Lewington following his presentation.
The policy requires all municipal workers (which includes employees, contractors and volunteers) to receive two doses of COVID-19 vaccine by March 2. After that, any related boosters must be completed within one month of the earliest eligibility date. The municipality will accommodate workers who qualify for exemptions based on one or more of the protected grounds in the Human Rights Code. However, employees who don’t comply may be subject to discipline up to and including dismissal.
Staff told council they would provide updates on how many workers are impacted by the policy, but they noted that most of their workers had already received the necessary doses.
“I would say very few, around 97 per cent (are vaccinated) is probably accurate,” said CAO Jay Barbeau. “We’re talking about a few people in various areas and that’s all that we would disclose. But we have been monitoring who is vaccinated, who isn’t vaccinated, and we have been, through Mrs. Craddock’s leadership, taking the appropriate steps to ensure the appropriate measures in the workplace have been taken care of and so on. Given the sensitivity of this, we’d be happy to provide a report statistically once the policy is implemented.”
Lewington’s presentation did raise the question of whether the policy applies to councillors as well. Director of corporate services Alissa Craddock made it sound as though elected officials were not covered by the mandatory vaccination policy during discussions.
“We had this discussion at the time we were developing the policy about the ‘may’ and ‘shall’ and what the possible ramifications are and how the policy is applied,” Craddock told council. “Certainly, we can’t fire councillors; certainly, there are other ways for councillors to work that don’t have them side-by-side with their workforce… there are ways to address those concerns through the policy as well.”
However, there was apparently enough confusion surrounding the matter for Coun. Chris Fisher to table a motion at the Feb. 1 meeting regarding the policy’s implication on future council candidates.
Craddock did not respond to requests for clarification in time for publication.
Vote by mail approved
After voting down a move to online/telephone voting at their Nov. 2 meeting, council voted in favour of authorizing vote-by-mail for upcoming 2022 municipal elections.
Coun. Lise Sénécal made a request to defer the vote until council determines how they’ll fill the 18-month vacancy they’ve had for the Verner seat. But council was told voting methods needed to be determined before the end of last year.
“You’re legally non-compliant right now by not having adopted that resolution prior to Dec. 31, 2021, so I don’t think it’s good form to delay it…. Also, I think the discussion about filling a vacancy and how you hold the election are two separate issues,” Barbeau told council.
Municipal elections will be held on Monday, Oct. 24.