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Mandatory, with an asterisk. Or two.

Rob Shaw: Some of BC’s largest and most influential unions say they’re in favour of mandatory shots…with provisos, asterisks, and exemptions for their members.
“We support making this mandatory, in principle, with the following exemptions.” *unrolls scroll*

Frustrated parents in some of the province’s largest school districts have sent off a blistering letter to BC’s education and health ministers demanding numerous improvements to COVID-19 precautions inside schools, as well as mandatory vaccinations for teachers and staff.

The presidents of parent advisory councils in Surrey, Vancouver, Sooke, New Westminster and Burnaby - collectively representing more than 173,000 students - wrote they are “extremely concerned by the increase in COVID cases amongst school-aged children, especially those under the age of 10, since the return to school” and want more government to mandate masks for students in kindergarten to grade 3, as well as return to separate class cohorts, improved ventilation, more transparent reporting of cases and a return to remote learning in districts with high case counts.

“Our organizations are asking for stronger minimum requirements to protect our children given the rapid increase in COVID cases since the return to school,” they write.

The parents have good reason to be frustrated.

They are caught in a stalemate between the BC Teachers’ Federation and government on the issue of mandatory vaccinations - with the BCTF not opposed but also not enthusiastic about being forced into mandatory vaccinations, and the BC government either not able or not willing to push them on the issue.

“We believe that a vaccine mandate for all teachers and staff will improve the safety of all students and members of the school community,” the parent advisory groups wrote in their letter.

The PACs, also hesitant to be offside with the BCTF, said any mandatory vaccination move would have to be done under the conditions laid out by the union involving a host of exemptions for a variety of reasons.

“We are aligned with teachers in this request, and we urge the government to quickly work with stakeholders to resolve issues around privacy and accommodations,” they write.

The BCTF, as it has done since the pandemic started, very craftily jumped on the issue in order to maximize damage delivered to the government.

“This is clear communication that ought to be taken seriously that both families and teachers are unsatisfied with the safety measures that are in place,” BCTF president Teri Mooring told Global BC.

“We’ve been equally frustrated by the lack of response by the provincial health office and government quite honestly.”

Yet if the BCTF so badly wanted its members to be forced to be vaccinated, like the PACs have suggested, the union could come out and clearly say so.

Instead, its carefully-worded official position is that it “would not oppose” such a move, but only after expanded masks, ventilation, and distancing measures are tried first, and only if its members get a variety of exemptions, and only if unspecified “privacy” issues are addressed as well.

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement for mandatory vaccination.

It’s the same kind of half-support voiced by the BC Nurses Union, the BC General Employees’ Union and the Hospital Employees’ Union after the BC government ordered that their members be vaccinated to work in health care facilities and seniors’ homes.

They also publicly profess support for the idea of vaccines, but then say if it would be unacceptable if it results in any members who refuse a shot getting disciplined or fired, because of staffing shortages in those sectors. Then they add on a host of conditions and negotiations before they’re willing to consider the idea. The thinking appears to be, better to have an unvaccinated worker spreading COVID-19 all over the place, than no worker at all.

That hasn’t gone over so well inside the BCNU, where the president had to resign after a backlash from some nurses who consider the position of their union cowardly. It appears especially hypocritical because it comes from a healthcare sector pleading for everyone else to get vaccinated, but then starts waffling when it is required of itself.

The public appears fed up.

The letter from the parent advisory councils is the latest example of the demand that anyone who works with our society’s most vulnerable, from seniors to school-aged children, must be vaccinated to protect them from the virus. Anything less is unacceptable.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, who was named to the post last year in the hopes her past credentials running the HEU would help her negotiate with the BCTF, has proceeded very carefully on the issue of mandatory vaccination so far.

But with rising case counts among kids, and schools now being closed due to outbreaks in areas like Chilliwack, the time has come for her to meet the issue head on.

The government can cut a deal with the BCTF to get mandatory vaccinations moving. Or it can force the union’s hand by declaring a public order. Parents don’t care either way. But the government can’t continue doing nothing. For school-aged kids too young to be vaccinated, that’s the worst option of all.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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