New Brunswick

Mandatory vaccination bill defeated 22-20

Proposed legislation to strengthen mandatory-vaccination rules for schoolchildren in New Brunswick has been defeated in the provincial legislature.

Bill sought to remove religious, philosophical exemptions for schoolchildren

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the goal of the bill was to immunize enough children to create herd immunity so that the small number of children who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons would still be protected from an outbreak. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Proposed legislation to strengthen mandatory-vaccination rules for schoolchildren in New Brunswick has been defeated in the provincial legislature.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy's bill, to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from the requirement for vaccinations, was defeated 22-20 in a free vote among all four parties in the legislature.

The two largest parties split on the issue, with six Progressive Conservative MLAs and 12 Liberals voting against it.

The three People's Alliance MLAs all voted no, while the three Green MLAs abstained. 

"There are people who make decisions based on evidence on both sides of the House," Cardy tweeted after the vote. "And those that don't."

Cardy said he was disappointed a majority of MLAs "couldn't stand up against the bullying, the harassment, the threats" from anti-vaccination activists.

I understand how they could succumb to that pressure, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed in it.- Dominic Cardy, education minister

"I understand how they could succumb to that pressure, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed in it."

But Attorney-General Andrea Anderson-Mason, who voted against the bill, said her decision was based not on emotion but on a lack of evidence.

She said Cardy had failed to produce data showing an urgent need to restrict parental rights.

"There was no evidence to show there had been an impact on the number of immunizations in our province as a result of the anti-vaxx movement," she said.

"We were not provided with any information to show that people were even using the exemptions, and I think those are critical bits of data."

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said the vote demonstrated how democracy should work. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Alliance Leader Kris Austin made the same argument. He said Cardy failed to win over a majority of MLAs because "he brought us incomplete information … to fix a system that nobody says is broken."

He was referring to the fact that data on vaccinations and exemptions from two out of the province's seven school districts still wasn't available as recently as this week, when a committee of MLAs examined the bill.

"Whether you like the outcome or don't like the outcome, it is a representation of how true democracy should work," Austin said of the vote.

Premier Blaine Higgs was among the PC MLAs who voted for the bill.

"Whether the bill was completely flawless or not, it provided that assurance to families that we were going to do our part to protect the health of students in classrooms," he said.

But given the emotion surrounding the issue, Higgs said a free vote was warranted. He said with the bill defeated, government will need to monitor vaccination rates and promote immunization to ensure rates don't go down.

Close to slipping below herd immunity

Cardy argued that 95 per cent of children need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, in which there's enough resistance to a disease that it's unlikely to spread in a school.

About one per cent of school children are now exempt, but Cardy argued this week that with three per cent of vaccinations not working, the province was already perilously close to slipping below the herd immunity threshold.

Green Party Leader David Coon said he and his two caucus colleagues abstained because, while they support mandatory vaccinations, they think it should be the chief medical officer of health who has the power to eliminate exemptions "based on public health requirements."

Coon tried to amend the bill to that effect Wednesday but his amendment was defeated.

If the bill had passed, children not vaccinated for any reason other than health concerns would not have been allowed to go to public schools starting in the fall of 2021. Critics called it an assault on parental rights. (Paul Vernon/The Associated Press)

Asked if an eventual COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory, Coon said, "I'll have to think about that."

Cardy scorned Coon and his two colleagues for not taking a stand one way or the other.

"I expected a lot better from the members of the Green Party," he said.

The minister said he would "carry on the conversation" with members of the two parties that had some MLAs support his bill, the PCs and the Liberals, to find other ways to improve vaccination rates.

Cardy aggressively pushed for the legislation, sometimes accusing his own PC colleagues of not paying attention to science and facts.

Anderson said it was the lack of clear numbers on vaccinations and exemptions, not Cardy's personal style, that led to the bill's defeat.

"He has fought very hard for what he believes in and he's to be commended for that," she said. "I don't know that would have necessarily made a difference, the approach that he took, because at the end of the day I was hung up on the missing data."

The vote was originally reported by the clerk of the legislature as 22-19 against the bill, but it was later revised to 22-20 against.

How members of the legislature voted

Voted for the bill

Progressive Conservatives: 13

Glen Savoie, Blaine Higgs, Trevor Holder, Ted Flemming, Sherry Wilson, Dorothy Shephard, Carl Urquhart, Mary Wilson, Ernie Steeves, Bill Oliver, Dominic Cardy, Bruce Fitch, Stewart Fairgrieve.

Liberals: 7

Lisa Harris, Jean-Claude d'Amours, Keith Chiasson, Rob McKee, Jacques LeBlanc, Isabelle Theriault, Gerry Lowe.

Voted against the bill

Progressive Conservatives: 6

Jake Stewart, Gary Crossman, Bruce Northrup, Mike Holland, Jeff Carr, Andrea Anderson-Mason.

Liberals: 12

Guy Arseneault, Denis Landry, Cathy Rogers, Brian Kenny, Roger Melanson, Andrew Harvey, Francine Landry, Stephen Horsman, Gilles LePage, Chuck Chiasson, Monique LeBlanc, Benoît Bourque.

People's Alliance: 3

Kris Austin, Rick DeSaulniers, Michelle Conroy.

Independent: 1

Robert Gauvin.

Abstained

Progressive Conservatives: 1

Ross Wetmore.

Greens: 3

David Coon, Kevin Arseneau, Megan Mitton.

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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