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Midland council divided over creating mandatory COVID policy

CAO update on COVID-19 alerted council to discuss September 22 policy on contentious issue
COVID vaccine
COVID-19 vaccine

With mandatory workplace vaccinations becoming more commonplace, Midland councillors addressed 'the elephant in the room.'

Following the CAO’s update on COVID-19 in the town and region, Midland policymakers took the opportunity to address mandatory vaccinations within the workplace as it related to keeping local residents and businesses safe.

“We want to give people the ability to work in a circumstance that they feel safe,” said CAO David Denault, “but we do know that the weather is changing, more people are going to be indoors, and that can present a problem with this type of a pandemic. So we’ll have to put some kind of a policy in place.”

On Wednesday, Ontario will implement a COVID-19 vaccine passport which will require proof of vaccination for citizens who want to visit high-risk and non-essential places. The announcement has been a contentious topic in regards to personal choice, enforcement and civil rights.

Coun. Bill Gordon pounced on Denault’s overview of the town’s procedures for COVID-19 policies as “the elephant in the room," sharing that he didn’t want Midland’s late implementation to be a choice out of council’s hands.

As neighbouring municipalities have announced their policies, Gordon said that copying others’ approaches with localized modifications would allow Midland to get ahead of the town’s current wait-and-see approach.

“I don’t want to see wholesale tearing of people’s rights and firing staff; I know how sensitive we are to our existing HR churn, but I would really like to see this policy and its draft come before council,” said Gordon.

“This isn’t like your garden-variety policy that council doesn't get involved in,” Gordon added. “We’re talking about something that is politically huge. And I think our people who put us here and voted for us need to know where we stand in implementing these issues.”

Denault responded that Midland wasn’t in a rush to create a problem that might not exist just to rush policy.

“We were waiting for some direction from the health unit which they gave, and it was a recommendation; they did not mandate it,” said Denault. “It was a recommendation to come forward with this, and that’s how we’re treating this. That’s why when I talked to Penetanguishene, Tay and Tiny, we’re giving this careful consideration.”

Coun. Carole McGinn thanked Gordon for bringing the conversation forward, sharing that her 11-year-old daughter had contracted COVID-19 and was in isolation.

“I think it’s something that needs extreme care, extreme diligence,” said McGinn. “We have to be careful to not react, and I appreciate that it’s being spoken up as a suggestion."

Coun. Cody Oschefski disagreed with Gordon, saying that having a division of Midland’s mandatory vaccination policy without the unification of surrounding North Simcoe municipalities wouldn’t be a good thing to do.

Coun. Jonathan Main provided mention of the Jesuits of the 1640s who brought disease with them, thus decimating the Wendat in the area, and asked the public to get vaccinated.

Deputy Mayor Mike Ross let council know that a meeting of the local heads of council would be upcoming where the issue would definitely be discussed.

The conversation didn’t pacify Gordon, who chose to reiterate his point by acknowledging the outcome of COVID-19 policy management in Alberta recently.

“Just look at Alberta as you’re starting to think about what could happen, because it’s very real and it’s coming,” stated Gordon firmly.

Denault’s final comment aimed to assure council and members of the public that staff and council policies had kept the people safe prior to available vaccinations, and that staff’s decision on the mandatory workplace vaccination policy won’t be different from other decisions made through the pandemic.

“If you look at our record through the pandemic, you’re going to find a stellar record in keeping our community and our staff safe. I’m certainly committed to continuing to do that,” said Denault. “If there’s a reason it needs to come to council, we’ll have to consider that.”

Highlights and statistical updates on COVID-19 in our region can be found on the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit website.

Council meetings are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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