Ottawa mayor writes to premier calling for vaccine passport in Ontario

Ottawa’s mayor and board of health chair have written to Premier Doug Ford calling for a provincewide vaccine passport, saying local small businesses will be at a disadvantage if the province doesn’t act.

The letter from Jim Watson and Keith Egli, dated Aug. 30, asks the premier to consider a provincial system to verify COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible.

“Locking down the economy and closing schools can no longer be our primary way of slowing the spread of this virus when we have the vaccine so readily available to all of those who are eligible,” the letter says.

A senior government source told CTV News Toronto late last week that the province will unveil a vaccine passport system, but the premier had yet to discuss the idea with his cabinet. Developments are expected this week.

This comes as Quebec’s vaccine passport system is set to come online. As of Wednesday, residents of Quebec 13 and older will be required to use the COVID-19 vaccine passport to access non-essential services, including indoor dining at restaurants, gyms, festivals, theatres and other places.

Watson and Egli noted the close relationship between Ottawa and Gatineau in their letter to the premier.

“There is now an increased likelihood that Quebec residents who are not vaccinated will choose to come to Ottawa to do their shopping, eat in restaurants and take part in other activities where it is easier to transmit and contract COVID-19, leading to more local transmission in Ottawa,” the letter says. “From an economic standpoint, our local businesses are now at greater disadvantage, as many vaccinated Ottawa residents may now choose to have their social outings in Gatineau restaurants and bars, where they know they will only be around those who are fully vaccinated.”

An Ottawa small business advocate believes most local businesses would support the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine passport to help avoid another lockdown, but there are concerns about potential costs associated with the plan and enforcing the rules.

“I think most businesses are happy with the idea of support coming, however, there’s a lot of concern as to what that support is actually going to look like,” said Michael Wood of Ottawa Special Events in an interview with CTV News at Six on Sunday.

Watson and Egli said a province-wide system would east the burden on local businesses.

“Leaving it up to individual businesses and organizations to decide if they will accommodate unvaccinated patrons will leave residents in a guessing game in deciding which businesses are safest to visit,” they said. “Those that have implemented restrictions are often faced with the difficult task of attempting to verify provincial documentation that them (sic) and their staff are not properly equipped to assess and verify.”

Ford has previously spoken against introducing a vaccine passport system in the province, saying it would create a split society between people who are vaccinated and people who are not.

However, the premier has been facing increased pressure to implement a province-wide proof of vaccination system. Local medical officers of health have said they are prepared to make their own, region-by-region, if the premier does not, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Ford to “step up” when speaking on the campaign trail last week.

Watson and Egli noted that Ottawans have stepped up in getting vaccinated, with 79 per cent of adults fully inoculated as of Monday.

“We have reached a tipping point in our fight against COVID-19, an easily accessible proof of vaccination program could be one of the best tools we have against a fourth wave and further economic and social disruption,” they wrote. “We humbly ask for your assistance in getting us to the finish line.”