Opinion

The provincial government has beefed up security at the Manitoba Legislative Building in recent months, including placing concrete barriers outside entrances and setting up checkpoints for incoming vehicles.

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The provincial government has beefed up security at the Manitoba Legislative Building in recent months, including placing concrete barriers outside entrances and setting up checkpoints for incoming vehicles.

However, it's failing to guard against one of the greatest current threats: allowing hundreds of people a day — including MLAs — to enter the building without checking their COVID-19 vaccination status.

The province has taken several measures since the summer. Temporary concrete barriers were placed outside three entrances after a pickup truck was driven up the stairs on the north side of the building in July. Barriers have also been set up at the main entrance to the grounds, where security staff monitor incoming vehicles.

Ron Schuler, Minister of Infrastructure, is one of two Tory MLAs who have refused to say if they are immunized. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Ron Schuler, Minister of Infrastructure, is one of two Tory MLAs who have refused to say if they are immunized. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Two of the building’s four main entrances are now off-limits. Prior to the changes, authorized personnel, including members of the Manitoba press gallery, could access the building through one of four doors. Under the new rules, only two doors are in use, both of which are now staffed by security officials.

Only those who work in the building, and who have government-issued identification, can enter on their own. Everyone else must be escorted once inside.

Most of these are good and necessary changes. Security has traditionally been lax at the legislature. Manitoba is catching up to security standards used in other provinces.

However, government is not applying that same level of urgency to its pandemic response at the legislature.

If it were, the province would be doing everything possible to keep SARS-CoV-2 out of the building and taking measures to mitigate its spread. Instead, it’s allowing a potentially dangerous invader inside.

While the building is still not open to the general public (it’s been closed to most visitors during the pandemic), hundreds of civil servants, political staff, MLAs and members of the media work at the legislature each day. Many others, including delivery personnel, technicians, and people who meet with government, enter the building on a regular basis. It’s a busy place.

Some of the rooms in the legislature where people work are not that big; many work in close proximity to each other.

Despite that, none are required to show proof of vaccination when entering.

Government has mandated Manitobans must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter a wide range of indoor facilities, including restaurants, movie theatres, casinos, hockey arenas and entertainment venues. But when it comes to its own building, the unvaccinated roam freely.

Masks must be worn inside common areas of the legislature, although not in individual offices.

Only vaccinated MLAs are allowed inside the chamber, but Tory MLAs Ron Schuler and Janice Morley-Lecomte (both of whom have refused to say if they are immunized) can still enter the building.

Under current rules, unvaccinated MLAs, political staff, and civil servants can attend caucus, cabinet and committee meetings.

Some of the rooms in the legislature where people work are not that big; many work in close proximity to each other. Considering the virus spreads mostly indoors through close, prolonged contact, allowing unvaccinated people to work together in those circumstances is potentially dangerous.

Room 68, where government holds news conferences and broadcasts messages about the importance of being double-vaxxed, is relatively small. No one is required to show proof of vaccination before entering that room, including media, civil servants or politicians.

As the legislature resumes sitting Wednesday, government should lead by example and mandate everyone who enters the Manitoba Legislative Building must be fully vaccinated.

If security personnel can check the identification of people accessing the building and monitor vehicles entering its grounds, they can surely check QR codes.

Government is on shaky ground when it requires business owners and not-for-profits to enforce proof-of-vaccine policies when it is not prepared to do so in its own building. It’s time to walk the walk on vaccine mandates.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.