Premier Heather Stefanson said she expects all members of her government — including Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler — to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15.

Premier Heather Stefanson said she expects all members of her government — including Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler — to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15.

"If they’re not, they will be removed from caucus and cabinet," Stefanson told reporters Wednesday.

It was announced earlier that as of Dec. 15, only people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can enter the legislative building.

Schuler, the member for Springfield-Ritchot, continued to avoid the media Wednesday.

He attended a morning cabinet meeting, then bolted past a Free Press reporter who asked him questions, to get to his office just steps away. He hung up on a reporter when reached by phone later in the day. The minister, who has steadfastly refused to disclose his vaccination status, continued to do so on Wednesday.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler, MLA for Springfield-Ritchot, has steadfastly refused to disclose his vaccination status.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler, MLA for Springfield-Ritchot, has steadfastly refused to disclose his vaccination status.

Instead, his office issued a statement from Schuler late in the day: "My personal health information is a private matter and I do not discuss my personal health information publicly."

The Free Press polled every MLA about their vaccination status earlier this year and all but two — Schuler and fellow Tory Janice Morley-Lecomte (Seine River) — said they had been immunized. Morley-Lecomte publicly disclosed last month that she was vaccinated after all. She had made headlines after being turned away from a restaurant over her proof of vaccination.

Schuler is the lone holdout.

His unvaccinated constituency assistant, Gladys Hayward Williams, 70, died of COVID-19 on Nov. 18.

Schuler’s statement on Wednesday did not refer to her, but said that he was directed by public health to self-isolate as a possible contact of someone infected with COVID-19.

It said he was not given the identity of the contact. It did not say when the contact occurred or if it was around the time that his assistant was infectious. A source close to her family said Schuler and others influenced her decision not to get vaccinated.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson.

The statement from Schuler Wednesday said that "no one in caucus is opposed to vaccinations."

The cabinet minister may already be vaccinated. Either way, Stefanson said anyone not fully vaccinated by Dec. 15 will be welcomed back to caucus and cabinet once they comply.

She wouldn’t comment on Schuler or why she’s waited so long to issue the vaccine mandate.

"I’m not going to get into commenting on someone else’s personal health information," the premier said. "I’ve been very clear about where we’re going with this," she said, noting that the mandate requiring vaccination for the entire building required planning among several departments and took time to implement.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Stefanson should immediately implement a vaccine mandate for her caucus.

"I think it’s important for the government to put the requirement in place today," he said in a scrum with reporters — his first since announcing Nov. 22 that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating.

Ron Schuler, minister of infrastructure, wears a scarf as a face covering while walking in to question period at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Oct. 26, 2020.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Ron Schuler, minister of infrastructure, wears a scarf as a face covering while walking in to question period at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Oct. 26, 2020.

"That’s a leadership question and a judgment question," Kinew said.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont accused Stefanson, and her predecessor interim premier Kelvin Goertzen, of dragging their feet on imposing tougher vaccination requirements — something former premier Brian Pallister announced months ago.

"It’s literally months too late," Lamont said about the PC government waiting until Dec. 15 to order workers and visitors in the legislature to be fully vaccinated. Pallister had pushed for such measures in August, he said.

Days before he resigned, Pallister wrote to the opposition on Aug. 24 saying that tougher pandemic rules for MLAs would be in place by early October.

"I believe all MLAs need to lead by example in our collective efforts to achieve sufficient immunization levels to ward off the negative impacts of the fourth wave," Pallister said in the letter to Kinew and Lamont. It said that all MLAs, government and legislature staff would have to provide proof of vaccination or undergo regular testing before the legislature resumed Oct. 6.

It called on the NDP and Liberals "to work expeditiously to develop this agreement so can continue to protect Manitobans from COVID-19."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.