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Advice from CMOH advised against exceptions to unpaid leave mandate

Rapid tests were considered, but CMOH advised not to allow exceptions.
Public Service Commission Minister John Streicker speaks to media at the legislature on Oct. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News file)

On Nov. 18, government house leader John Streicker tabled an exchange between himself and union leaders showing that the government considered rapid testing as an alternative to placing unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave, but decided against it.

The information is a copy of documents sent to Steve Geick of the Yukon Employees’ Union and Ted Hupé of the Yukon Teachers’ Association.

The unions had broadly supported a vaccine mandate but had requested an alternative to allow unvaccinated people to continue working with pay, including the possibility of daily testing. The document tabled Wednesday includes a detailed analysis from the chief medical officer of health looking into the possibility.

“Testing is insufficient to support the policy goals,” reads the document, which states that accommodation could decrease vaccine uptake, tests are not foolproof at reducing the risk of transmission and increased testing would threaten existing capacity.

“Public health may be compromised if testing resources are diverted from symptomatic and close contact testing to allow for routine testing of unvaccinated individuals,” it reads.

The analysis includes that daily tests are being used in the N.W.T. and British Columbia, although the B.C. Public Service Agency is not using them as an alternative accommodation.

The final recommendation is that rapid tests not be allowed as a substitute for vaccination except in very limited medical exemptions. It also speculates that religious exemptions may pose a possible challenge.

“Accommodations for religious exemptions are not recommended for communicable disease control although it is recognized that some may be necessary to comply with territorial and/or national legislation on rights and freedoms,” reads the note.

Unvaccinated employees won’t be able to use vacation time

According to the government, unvaccinated employees who do not have at least one dose of the vaccine by Nov. 30 will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence starting on Dec. 1.

There will be a small number of exceptions for legitimate medical or religious grounds.

Unvaccinated employees will not be approved to use vacation or other discretionary leave time for this purpose in lieu of leave without pay, confirmed Aimee O’Connor, a spokesperson for the Public Service Commission.

Motion to endorse vaccine mandate shut down in the house

Vaccine mandates got political on Nov. 17 as opposition parties voted together to pass on a motion to discuss the upcoming mandate in the house.

The motion, introduced in a speech by government house leader John Streicker, called on the two parties to endorse the government’s vaccine mandate efforts. The motion would have effectively made each member of the legislature vote for or against the vaccine mandate but would not have had an impact on the policy.

Following the introduction, Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon quickly called for debate to end before it began.

With 11 votes in favour of not continuing the discussion and seven Liberal votes for the debate to continue, the motion was effectively brought to a halt.

Dixon called the effort by the Liberals an attempt to “waste time.”

“We both agreed that it was quite clear to us that this was nothing more than a stunt for them to try to delay debate on important topics like the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Education,” he said.

Dixon has previously made it clear that his party is supportive of the COVID-19 vaccine effort but did not support the Liberal government’s decision to make the vaccine mandatory for all government workers.

On Nov. 18 he said he had already made his party’s position clear and didn’t feel the need to elaborate on the floor of the house.

NDP leader Kate White, who has publicly supported the mandate, said she agreed, and felt it would be a waste of time for legislators to rehash their positions.

“The Yukon NDP have said we support the vaccine mandate but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have questions. And I’ve asked those questions,” she said. “We’re running out of time and there’s stuff we need to talk about.”

Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee suggested both parties turned down the debate in order to not offend their voting bases or union support.

“They clearly don’t want to offend,” she said. “I wanted to know how they would have voted. Our party wanted to know and I think Yukoners deserve to know how they were going to respond to that debate, and they shut it down. It’s very unfortunate.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at