Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe pulled no punches at a post-election press conference Tuesday in Regina — saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has “a role to play” when it comes to low vaccination rates in northern and Indigenous communities.
“Our far north and Indigenous communities are running at a vaccination rate lower than 50 per cent — some as low as 23 per cent,” Moe said.
“This is an area where we have some of the highest COVID transmissions in the province and this is an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction.”
Moe said the province has “worked hard, throughout this pandemic” to address low vaccination rates in northern and Indigenous communities.
The premier pointed to allocations by Saskatchewan of 14 per cent of vaccines received in the early stages of the pandemic to Indigenous Services Canada.
He said the province went out of its way to try and boost vaccine uptake in communities under federal jurisdiction.
“We partnered with Indigenous Services Canada on providing information on radio in a number of Indigenous languages so that people could understand why and where the vaccines are available,” Moe said.
“We have went so far out of our provincial jurisdiction — in a number of northern communities — providing door-to-door opportunities to get vaccinated.
“This ultimately is an area where we saw the Prime Minister raise the vaccination rate in Saskatchewan as being far too low. I would put forward that the Prime Minister has a role to play with this.”
Trudeau ‘feels really bad’ for fully vaccinated in Sask.
Moe’s criticisms are in response to comments made by Trudeau while on the campaign trail in B.C. where the Prime Minister said he felt “really bad” for fully vaccinated Saskatchewanians.
During a campaign stop in Richmond on Sept. 14 Trudeau blamed Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for low vaccination uptake in the prairie provinces.
Trudeau said imposing vaccine requirements for government workers and vaccine passport mandates causes vaccine hesitant people to roll up their sleeves — but neither Alberta nor Saskatchewan had yet implemented vaccine passports.
“Getting vaccinated is the way through this… This fourth wave is a wave primarily of people who chose not to get vaccinated. In Alberta, in Saskatchewan, millions of people have done the right thing and gotten vaccinated,” Trudeau said.
“I feel bad, really bad, for those people in Alberta and Saskatchewan who’ve stepped up to do the right thing.”
Trudeau said that while Saskatchewan and Alberta have a proportionally lower number of vaccinated people than elsewhere in Canada a majority of residents in both provinces are vaccinated.
“Because of leadership that will not commit to keeping them safe in the right way or even protecting the economy the right way they’re facing greater risks because of cancelled surgeries,” Trudeau said.
“They’re facing emergency public health restrictions that may have to be brought in.”
Trudeau promised to “foot the bill” for vaccine passports to make it easier for provinces to move forward on those mandates.
“I don’t think any Albertan or Saskatchewanian looking at this election could possibly think that Erin O’Toole — who can’t even get his own candidates to get vaccinated — would do any better for them than their current premiers are.”
Saskatchewan reinstated a province-wide mask mandate on Sept. 17 and announced mandatory vaccine policies effective October 1. A QR code is now available to residents as proof of vaccination.
Healthcare system ‘at the brink’ in Saskatchewan’s north
But Moe said the regions that are most far behind on vaccine uptake are under federal jurisdiction.
Northern InterTribal Health Authority (NITHA) Medical Health Officer Nnamdi Ndubuka had told the Prince Albert Daily Herald on Sept. 8 that the healthcare system was “at the brink.”
Ndubuka said healthcare workers in northern Saskatchewan are stretched — with some going on stress leave and others taking sick leave.
“That tells you that we are at the brink,” Ndubuka said.
Ndubuka sent letters to First Nation governments encouraging vaccine mandates for staff and said that he supports “any and all” measures to boost vaccination rates.
The province was meeting with northern and Indigenous leadership to come up with solutions while the Prime Minister was busy campaigning in an unwanted election, Moe said.
He called on Trudeau to do more and work with the province to solve the problem.
“(Trudeau) has many communities across this province that are exclusively federal jurisdiction. The province has stepped forward to do what we can to increase our vaccination rates in these areas,” Moe said.
“We’ve worked with community leaders on how we can continue to push those vaccination rates — I would say to some success in some communities. That needs to continue to be repeated in other communities.”
Moe said in order to achieve that goal Saskatchewan needs the “full support of the federal government” to bring up low vaccination rates throughout the far north and in Indigenous communities.
“I suspect that’s the case across Canada,” Moe said.
“I suspect the federal government has been aware of this throughout this pandemic — throughout their decision to call an election while we as Canadians are still managing our way through this pandemic.”