New treasury board president says vaccine mandate for civil service is priority

Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier said her priority as the new treasury board president is following through on the vaccine mandate for federal civil servants.

Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier is the only national capital region representative in the new cabinet

Ottawa-Vanier Liberal MP Mona Fortier arrives for the cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa Oct. 26, 2021. Fortier is the new President of the Treasury Board. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier said her priority as the new treasury board president is following through on the vaccine mandate for federal civil servants.

Fortier said she wanted to thank the approximately 240,000 public servants who have provided vaccination attestations so far, with Friday's deadline looming. 

"We want to protect the health and safety of public servants, but also for Canadians and to show leadership as the largest employer of the country," Fortier said.

According to the Treasury Board Secretariat's public statistics, there were more than 300,000 employees in the core federal public service and separate agencies in 2020.

Fortier said she supports the use of unpaid leave as a consequence for employees who aren't or won't get fully vaccinated.

"I truly believe that mandatory vaccination is the approach that needs to be done."

Stephane Aubry, national vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), said the vaccine mandate has been a thorny issue for the government and unions.

"It's going to be hard for both sides in trying to make sure that public servants are well-served, represented and defended," he said.

Aubry said the union welcomes Fortier's appointment and noted that she was quick to respond to concerns about the beleagured Phoenix pay system as an MP.

Lone Ottawa-area cabinet minister

Fortier, who is the only MP from the National Capital Region in cabinet, said she is still waiting to talk to unions and review the analysis of what the future of work will look like in the public sector, including questions about more remote work.

She said that analysis would have to include some consideration on how to support businesses that saw a loss of clientele as pandemic-related remote work left federal office buildings empty in the downtowns of Ottawa and Gatineau.

Aubry, from PIPSC, said many of the union's members are interested in continuing to have the flexibility of remote work, but that Fortier will have to address issues that have come up as its become more common.

"Working from home is not something that is cheap. It does imply some organization of your office space and does imply insurance for the equipment, equipment of the government," Aubry said. 

Fortier is the first capital region MP to hold the treasury board portfolio since John Baird held the office from 2006 to 2007 in the Harper government.

Prior to the election Fortier, as minister of middle-class prosperity, was joined in cabinet by a second Ottawa MP Catherine McKenna, who did not run for re-election after holding the infrastructure portfolio in the previous cabinet.

"The fact that I have this role and being the MP for Ottawa-Vanier could also make a difference in making sure that Ottawa is well-represented," she said.