By Cole Parkinson
Westwind Weekly News
Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow has co-penned a letter along with Peace River MLA Dan Williams asking nine post-secondary institutions in Alberta to reconsider their stance on not allowing unvaccinated students to continue their studies.
The letter was addressed to Michael Mahon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Lethbridge, Prof. Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta, Dr. Edward McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary, Laura Jo Gunter, president of SAIT, Dr. Tim Rahilly, president and vice-chancellor of president and vice-chancellor of Mount Royal University, Dr. Annetee Trimbee, president and vice-chancellor of MacEwan University, and Dr. Misheck Mwaba, president and vice-chancellor of Bow Valley College.
The letter explained that on Sept. 13, 2021, these schools announced they would be changing their COVID-19 measures and would require everyone entering their facility to be fully vaccinated.
“Although these post-secondary institutions have based their protocols on direction from the Government of Alberta, they have chosen to excel the option of providing a negative PCR or rapid test,” reads the letter. “There is little to no evidence showing that universities and colleges benefit from limiting in-person learning to those who are vaccinated. We have failed to see these institutions demonstrate how their students are any safer from COVID-19 than those on campuses that allow rapid testing instead of proof of vaccination.”
Schow had already highlighted this point of view during a meeting with the Municipal District of Taber at their regular meeting on Jan. 11.
“If we’re going to be one of the most robust, booming economies in the country for the next couple of years, we need a workforce. How are we going to go into that fight with one arm tied behind our back with some of our best and brightest who are not being allowed to finish their degrees? I’m looking at this logically and saying ‘OK, what are the long-term effects of this.’ I have my concerns and I think we have to look at all possibilities to ensure going forward we can have people getting back to their lives as normal,” he stated at the meeting.
The letter also pointed to the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College. The U of L developed a set of Mandatory Vaccination Principles on Oct. 11. “Effective Nov. 1, 2021, or Oct. 22, 2021, for the Campus at Bow Valley College, all University Community members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and have provided proof of vaccination before attending campus. The requirement to be fully vaccinated applies to all employees whether working remotely or on Campus,” it reads. The U of L resumed with online classes in the new year and it is extended until Feb. 28.
Lethbridge College meanwhile has proof of vaccination and a testing protocol.
“Everyone entering campus must show proof of full vaccination, provide a negative COVID-19 test result performed by an approved third-party taken within the previous 72 hours (note: at-home rapid test results will not be accepted), or have a Lethbridge College approved medical exemption,” read the college’s website. Lethbridge College resumed in-class learning on Jan. 24.
“While these institutions have different educational goals and programs, is the university now a demonstrably safer place than the college when it comes to protecting students and staff from COVID-19? Is Lethbridge College somehow a less safe environment because they are allowing students to be on campus and participate in higher learning with a negative PCR or rapid test?” asks the letter.
“With no evidence to show that it has made their campuses any safer, colleges and universities are denying unvaccinated Albertans the opportunity to receive a higher education. Many students that have nearly completed their program have seen their education and employment opportunities vanish for making a personal health choice,” continues the letter.
The letter also pointed to AHS adjusting their vaccine policy, which now allows unvaccinated healthcare workers and contractors to provide a negative rapid test.
“That was the correct decision — one that should have been made from the beginning,” states the letter. “With that in mind, we have a simple question. What makes so many university campuses in Alberta more risk-averse than a hospital or other healthcare facility? If Alberta healthcare workers, who are likely exposed to COVID-19 daily are permitted to rapid test, why are post-secondary students being denied the same opportunity? These students are being held to a higher standard, a standard that will unfairly deprive many young Albertans of their future.”
The two MLAs also stated these mandates will harm Alberta’s post-COVID economy.
“We need more accountants, pipefitters, plumbers, engineers, and teachers. In addition, do we not need more doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers if we expect to combat this virus? How can we rise to the demands of a growing economy and the challenges of COVID-10 if unvaccinated students are not allowed to graduate and held build Alberta’s economic future?”
The pair end the letter asking for all post-secondary institutions to remove the vaccination mandates and offer students a chance to provide a rapid test.
Alberta NDP Advanced Education Critic David Eggen was critical of the letter stating he was “very disappointed UCP MLAs Dan Williams and Joseph Schow write to the presidents of many Alberta post-secondary schools who made the safe decision to require COVID-19 vaccination to attend on-campus.”
Eggen stated the letter was undermining the push to vaccinate.
“We know that being vaccinated is one of the best tools we have to ensure there is less pressure on our healthcare systems by lowering the chance of adverse effects from COVID-19, and helping against community spread. MLA Williams and MLA Schow should retract their letter and apologize to these schools for questioning their judgement, while post-secondaries were left abandoned without resources from the UCP to make in-person learning safe for everyone.”