NDP's Andrea Horwath backtracks on comments opposing mandatory vaccines for education workers

The leader of Ontario's New Democrats changed her mind Thursday after facing criticism for her opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for education workers, a view similar to the one held by Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford.

NDP leader said Wednesday she considered it a charter right to refuse shot, then said she was wrong Thursday

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says her party supports regular rapid virus tests for unvaccinated education workers before they come to work. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The leader of Ontario's New Democratic Party is backpedalling on comments she made against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for education workers, following heavy criticism.

"I regret the comment. I was wrong," Andrea Horwath said in a statement on Thursday.

"I fully support mandatory vaccination in health care and education, based on science and public health priorities. I should have made that position clearer, much earlier, in support of the health and safety of the most vulnerable among us: seniors, people with disabilities, people who are sick, and children who can't yet get their vaccines."

On Wednesday, Horwath said her party supports regular rapid virus tests for unvaccinated education workers before they come to work.

She told CBC News in an interview Wednesday that she considers it a charter right for people to refuse the vaccine, a view similar to that of the province's Progressive Conservative premier.

"I don't take lightly people's charter rights, and so that's why what we're saying is rapid tests, or your vaccination status and being vaccinated," Horwath said.

"We can't simply ignore that there are folks that are not going to get vaccinated and I don't think that the right thing to do is just to shut them out."

Premier Doug Ford has said he won't mandate vaccinations for workers, saying he thinks it's a constitutional right to refuse the shot.

He has also said he doesn't support a proof-of-vaccination system that would allow people to participate in certain activities if they get vaccinated.

His government's back-to-school plan, released this week, doesn't require COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible teachers or students.

WATCH | Provincial NDP, Liberal leaders talk back-to-school plans: 

Ontario opposition party leaders react to the province's back-to-school plan

2 years ago
Duration 15:39
Featured VideoOntario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath join Power & Politics to discuss the province's plan, including vaccination policies for education workers.

'They're both wrong,' Liberal leader says

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca has been calling for mandatory COVID-19 shots for education workers ahead of the September return to school. He's also supported mandatory shots for health-care workers, a position shared by several professional groups representing them.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca supports mandatory shots for health and education workers and calls Horwath's stance disappointing for progressives in the province. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Del Duca said Thursday that Horwath and Ford are appealing to "anti-vax" voters and says Horwath's stance is disappointing for progressives in Ontario.

"I don't want anyone to lose their job, but it's the right thing to do," Del Duca said of mandatory shots, adding that he thinks the policy is reasonable and responsible.

He said such a policy could involve outreach to help make vaccine-hesitant workers more comfortable about vaccination, and some people could be redeployed into other roles if they don't want the vaccines.

"It is the kind of thing that we need our leaders to do at this critically important moment. I will continue to push for this, I will continue to tell Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath they're both wrong."

Horwath getting 'bad advice,' nursing group says

The head of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario said on Twitter that Horwath is getting "bad advice."

"We need mandatory vaccination for ALL health-care workers and education workers, unless they have a medical exemption. PERIOD," Doris Grinspun wrote on Thursday.

In a since-deleted tweet, federal Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus also criticized Horwath's stance.

"I just wrote to the party and told them they better push her to walk back her vaccination comments because the [Liberals] will drive a truck over our party for such idiocy," he wrote in the tweet on Wednesday.

Horwath did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

She has previously said she supports adding COVID-19 vaccines to the list of required immunizations for children to attend school.

Eighty-one per cent of adults in Ontario had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Thursday and 72 per cent were fully vaccinated.

The province, school boards and unions representing teachers and education workers told The Canadian Press last month that they are not keeping data on the vaccination rate among education staff.

Ontario reported 213 COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 14 deaths from the virus, though 12 of the deaths occurred in previous months and are now being reported due to a data cleaning initiative.

According to Public Health Ontario, from the end of June to the end of July, unvaccinated people were eight times more likely to become infected with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.

Unvaccinated people 60 and older were 15 times more likely to be hospitalized than their fully vaccinated counterparts.

With files from CBC News