A sweeping overhaul of legislation governing health care workers in B.C. could lead to mandatory vaccination requirements for people to either be hired or to keep their jobs, says the independent MLA for Nechako-Lakes.
And it comes at a time when the province needs to instead re-hire the several thousand health care workers suspended because they would not accept COVID-19 vaccinations, John Rustad adds.
At issue is Bill C-36 introduced last fall in the provincial legislature which would collapse the 15 self-governing colleges now overseeing health care professions into six bodies, have their boards of directors appointed by the province and create a separate office to oversee how the new bodies function.
Rustad worries this new level of governance will arbitrarily make vaccination and other personal health care measures mandatory.
“This is coming at a time when health care workers are at a premium in this province. If anything, the province should be hiring the workers back who were suspended because they would not get vaccinated,” he said.
“I’m triple-vaccinated and encourage people to get vaccinated, but I believe in choice. I think risks can be managed properly.
“Do you think someone coming into the ER to need help is going to worry about the health care worker being vaccinated? Or the person who needs a service to find it is closed because of under-staffing?”
Rustad also said COVID vaccines do not prevent someone from catching the virus but did acknowledge vaccines will dampen its effects.
“There are fines, thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands for breaking the rules,” he said of provisions in Bill C-36.
The bill has passed all three required readings in the legislature and now awaits royal assent by the Lieutenant-Governor.
Rustad was invited to speak about the issue, and other matters, at a Jan. 14 gathering in Houston.
First elected in 2005 as a B.C. Liberal, Rustad held two cabinet portfolios when that political party was in power, aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister and forests, lands and natural resource operations minister.
Following the B.C. Liberal defeat in 2017, Rustad reverted to the opposition benches in the legislature and was re-elected in 2020.
But he was dismissed by the party last summer for raising questions about the role CO2 plays in climate change.
Rustad did not deny changes in the climate but also said suggestions about reducing the amount of nitrous oxide from synthetic nitrogen fertilizer would hurt the agricultural industry in his riding.
“I’ve never felt freer,” said Rustad of his independent status. “I have better relations with [cabinet] minister and MLAs than ever before.”
Removal from the BC Liberal caucus, did however, meant a move from his old spot on the floor of the legislature to a desk that’s in a far upper corner.
And he was also relegated to an office space in the basement of the legislature building which first opened in 1898.
“There’s a jail down there and that’s where I thought they were going to put me,” said Rustad. “It’s not really a jail but there are bars and maybe it was a place they thought they would put unruly MLAs, I don’t know.”
“I’m not there but it’s just down the hall.”