Alberta county passes policy that stops businesses with vaccine mandates from winning contracts
Companies can still bid on Mackenzie County contracts, but they're ineligible to be awarded them
A county in northwestern Alberta has approved a policy that disqualifies businesses with mandatory COVID-19 vaccine mandates from being awarded future county contracts.
Under the new policy, which took effect last week, businesses currently under contract with Mackenzie County can work remotely — as their employees are now banned from working on county sites — or subcontract the project to a company that does not have a mandatory vaccine policy.
"It's a personal choice for people to make," said Reeve Josh Knelsen. "I don't think that government has any business telling people if they may or may not come to work because of this."
Byron Peters, the county's interim chief administrative officer, presented an item for council to discuss during last week's committee of the whole meeting.
It proposed amending the procurement policy to place restrictions on businesses that have mandatory vaccine policies.
Council approved the policy during its meeting on Feb. 16. Knelsen said the decision was unanimous.
Mackenzie County, about 700 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, includes the hamlets of Fort Vermilion and La Crete. As of last year the region had a population of just over 12,600.
The Purchasing Authority Directive and Tendering Process now states Mackenzie County "does not tolerate mandatory vaccination or any other discriminatory requirements for any employee, contractor, or sub-contractor" at its workplaces, or for job sites within the county.
The legislation, as written, does not prohibit any company from bidding on county contracts.
Procurement documents will clearly state, however, that companies with vaccine mandates are ineligible to gain the work, prior to bids closing or contracts being awarded, according to a news release issued by Peters last week.
"We don't care if people are vaccinated or not," Knelsen said. "But when somebody wants to threaten somebody's … livelihood by telling them either you take this or you don't have a job, or you take this or you can't do this, that's just wrong."
There aren't many businesses in the area with mandatory vaccine policies, he said, and council is open to amending the new policy if needed.
Calgary-based electricity and natural gas provider ATCO requires all employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide proof of exemption, according to its website.
A spokesperson told CBC News that ATCO has received a letter from Mackenzie County and plans to sit down with county officials to discuss their concerns in greater detail.
"As an essential service provider, we have a responsibility to Albertans to safely and reliably operate energy infrastructure," ATCO's Kurt Kadatz said in an emailed statement.
New policy rejects science: health policy expert
The new policy rejects science, discriminates, and allows people to not fulfil their societal obligations, said John Church, a University of Alberta political science professor who focuses on health policy.
"Elected officials are opting not to follow the science about the best practices for how to bring the pandemic to an end," Church said.
It's also ironic, he said, because people who are against COVID-19 vaccines have been complaining about being discriminated against. Yet, this discriminates against companies — and consequently their employees — who are doing their part to keep their community safe.
Church added that there's no objection to companies that, for example, have mandatory drug tests that ensure employees are not coming to work under the influence of substances.
"This is about partisan politics," he said.
Mackenzie County makes up a significant chunk of Alberta Health Services' High Level local geographic area. That area has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the province, provincial data shows.
Of the LGA's entire population, only 38.1 per cent had received one dose of vaccine as of Feb. 17.
About half of people 12 or older in that area have received their first dose.
Businesses with vaccine mandates also cannot force their employees to get vaccinated, Church noted. Vaccines can only be administered if the person gives consent.
But in our society, people have obligations in addition to their rights, like having to stop at a stop sign, he said. During the pandemic, the collective obligation has been for people to follow public health guidelines and get vaccinated if and when they can.
"There are consequences for not fulfilling your obligations," Church said.
"Unfortunately, a growing number of people are forgetting their obligations to our free and democratic society, and they're only thinking about their rights. And unfortunately, we've got some politicians that seem to be doing the same thing."