Vaccine mandate approved for Lambton county councillors in heated debate

Warwick Mayor Jackie Rombouts, third row on the right, during the Sept. 1 Lambton County council meeting.

Lambton county councillors have until Oct. 31 to inform the county whether they are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Councillors passed a vaccine policy at their Monday meeting, and the discussion was heated at times, showing the deep divide between those who agree with the measures designed to get more people to be vaccinated against the contagious virus and those who believe don’t.

Lambton’s policy for politicians is similar to that of the policy already put in place for staff in the county by administration. Councillors have to disclose to the county if they are fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. If they aren’t they need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test done within the week of the meeting they attend. If that’s not available, the councillors will attend remotely.

Stephane Thiffeault, general manager of corporate services, told councilors the policy reflects that no matter what guidelines you put in place, there is always some risk. “We need to recognize that at the end of the day, there is no guarantee whether I’m fully vaccinated or not fully vaccinated as to whether I am transmitting the virus itself or contracting the virus.

“If we adopted what I would call the vaccination bust kind of position that you would be vaccinated to participate, it will not lend to enough flexibility for those who we do have to accommodate for various reasons.”

That concerned some councillors who questioned the testing component of the policy – particularly that someone could have a test seven days before the meeting.

Sarnia City/County Councillor Mike Stark was not satisfied and said he would not be attending any in person meetings with people who have not been fully vaccinated.

But, there were councillors opposed to the mandate, including Warwick Mayor Jackie Rombouts who recently took to social media to voice her opposition when the province announced vaccine passports to enter restaurants, bars, concerts and sporting events.

“If you trust that this vaccine is a good vaccine, and it is there to help protect your health, and keep you from being hospitalized, or in the ICU, then you should have no problem with anybody else because you have protected yourself – full stop – you’ve protected yourself…there are breakthrough cases…but the odds of that are so slim,” says Rombouts.

“I just think to force people to do things against their will to protect somebody who has already protected themselves using the vaccine does not make sense.”

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley says it is the local politicians duty to be leaders in vaccines. “The primary obligations of elected people – different than the general public – is to protect the public health…we are mandated in the worst public health crisis in 100 years to do everything we can,” he says. “And the county policy gives options. It gives options to people vaccinated or not vaccinated so it doesn’t exclude anyone.”

“I want to make it clear that I don’t support the decision to put this mandate on our staff, or anybody else is in Ontario,” says Rombouts.

“I am not sitting here saying there should be rules for you and not for me. I’m saying there should not be a rule that anybody can sit in judgment on anybody else, and how that they determine what is right for their health. That’s what I’m saying. They should have the right to do their own risk versus reward. Everybody in Ontario should have that right.

“And for you, as a council to sit here and say that you know better than the mom of four or you know better than the people driving the snowplows about their health is disgusting.”

Before the vote, where every councillor except Rombouts, Sarnia City/County Councillor Margaret Bird and Oil Springs Mayor Ian Veen approved the mandate, Rombouts added, “History will look down on every politician who tries to force their will over the people that they are governing.”