Trudeau says post-election priority is vaccine mandate for public servants, travellers
Chrystia Freeland will continue to serve as both deputy PM and finance minister
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid out five post-election priorities for his government Tuesday — all of them focused on the continued fight against the pandemic as COVID-19 case counts rise sharply in some parts of the country.
Speaking to reporters outside of a vaccination clinic in suburban Ottawa, Trudeau said the government's energies will be directed first at standing up a vaccine mandate, which will force federal public servants and travellers to get their shots before going to work or boarding a train, plane or ship.
Trudeau said the details of the mandate have yet to be finalized because the government is still locked in negotiations with the public sector unions that represent tens of thousands of federal bureaucrats.
"We will have more to say when we make the announcement in the coming weeks," Trudeau said of the new mandate, a program that could have major consequences for all those who work for the federal government, the country's largest single employer.
He also issued a warning to anyone planning to travel in the coming weeks: get vaccinated or risk being denied permission to board.
WATCH: Trudeau lays out priorities for pandemic, addresses new cabinet:
"I was very clear on that and I have for weeks and weeks now," Trudeau said. "Make sure that you and all members of your family over 12 years old have gotten vaccinated and are getting your second shot if you haven't already, because you will not be able to travel on a plane or a train in Canada if you are not fully vaccinated."
As the U.S. and other countries demand that all incoming travellers be vaccinated against the virus, Trudeau said his government is putting the final touches on a vaccine passport for international travel — a program designed to ease border crossings for Canadians.
The U.S. still hasn't said which vaccine products it will recognize when proof of vaccination is required for entry, starting sometime in November. That's an ongoing source of concern for the two million Canadians who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the early days of the immunization campaign — a product that has not been approved for use in the American marketplace.
According to Health Canada, more than 3.8 million Canadians received some combination of vaccine products as part of the push to get people fully vaccinated faster — a pandemic policy that hasn't been widely followed in the U.S.
Speaking to reporters last week, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said Canada has been sharing data with U.S. officials about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca product and the "mix and match" regimen of two different mRNA shots, like those offered by Pfizer and Moderna.
"We've been providing some technical supports to help them make a decision on the mixed dose, particularly AstraZeneca followed by an mRNA vaccine. I understand they are still in their process of deliberation," she said.
WATCH: Trudeau tells reporters how his government will proceed after 2021 election win:
Trudeau also said Tuesday that Chrystia Freeland will continue to serve as both deputy prime minister and finance minister in his post-election cabinet. He also announced that his new cabinet will be sworn in sometime in October and Parliament will return "before the end of fall."
"The exact dates still to be worked out, but we are busy getting into the business of delivering on an ambitious agenda," he said.
Trudeau said that, like his previous cabinets, this one will feature an equal number of women and men around the table.
"It is a base starting point that we have gender parity in any cabinet I put together," he said.
Trudeau outlined two other priorities that may require parliamentary approval: a new $1 billion fund to help pay for provincial proof-of-vaccination programs and legislation to criminalize some of the disruptive demonstrations that have been staged by anti-vaccine groups and others outside of hospitals in recent weeks.
During the recent election campaign, Trudeau promised to send money to the provinces that create their own vaccine passports — credentials people vaccinated against COVID-19 can show to businesses to make everyday activities safer.
If a province requires that everyone at a local restaurant, gym or other non-essential business location be fully vaccinated and show proof of vaccination, Trudeau said, Ottawa would pay for the development and the rollout of that program.
"We're going to foot the bill because we know that encouraging people to get vaccinated, and protecting those that have already gotten vaccinated, is the key way through this pandemic and out of it," Trudeau said.
Alberta and Saskatchewan, two jurisdictions with some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, have been grappling with a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases that has put enormous stress on intensive care units.
To help, the prime minister said the federal government has already deployed more ventilators and staff from the Canadian Armed Forces to Alberta to help a health care system that is teetering on the edge.
He also said that, if either one of those provinces is forced into another lockdown to bring caseloads under control, Ottawa will lend a hand financially.
"Federal supports for businesses, for individuals, would kick back in. We'd make sure we were there to support people," he said.
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