By Steve Hubrecht

Several of the largest private and non-government employers in the Columbia Valley and across the Kootenay region have mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees in recent weeks.

On Thursday, Oct. 21, the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) announced it was implementing a proof of vaccination policy for staff and board members, saying they needed to be fully vaccinated by the end of November.

“It is critically important we remain vigilant in our efforts to support a safe and healthy workplace,” said CBT president and chief executive officer, Johnny Strilaeff, in a press release. “The decision to implement a proof of vaccination policy was made after careful consideration of a range of issues, including workplace health and safety as well as legally protected rights under human rights laws.”

The CBT added that it is looking at expanding the policy to include contractors, suppliers, and other stakeholders who it deals with “on a face-to-face basis.” Proof of vaccination is not needed to visit CBT offices across the Kootenay, but other COVID-19 protocols are in place there.

The CBT mandate follows similar moves earlier this month by several large Kootenay employers, notably some of the area’s famous ski resorts, as they gear up for the upcoming winter season.

Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), which includes several large ski resorts in the Kootenay region (although neither of the Columbia Valley’s ski resorts), announced on Oct. 15 that its employees would need to be vaccinated in order to work. Employees already hired by RCR had until the end of October to show proof of the first shot, and until early December to show proof of the second shot. New hires after Oct. 15 had to be fully vaccinated to be hired. RCR’s three major resorts in the East Kootenay collectively employ 1,275 people, making it the seventh larger employer in the region, according to Kootenay Business’s list of top Kootenay employers.

Here in the Columbia Valley, Panorama Mountain Resort announced a similar policy for its employees on Monday, Oct. 25.

“Protecting the health and safety of our community and guests has always been our top priority. Since day one of this pandemic, we’ve rigorously upheld federal and provincial public health orders, and closely followed all guidelines and industry best practices. Like leading resort destinations across the country, we’ve implemented a vaccination policy for all employees. Our people need to know that their workplace is as safe as it can possibly be. Our guests want to know that we’ve taken as many precautions as we can to ensure the best possible vacation experience,” said Panorama president and chief executive officer, Steve Paccagnan, in a statement to the Pioneer.

At Panorama and RCR resorts, skiers do not need to be vaccinated to ride the lift and ski the slopes (although other COVID-19 protocols are in place). However, they will need to show proof of vaccination to enter most day lodges, restaurants, shops, and other indoor facilities.

Skiers age 12 and older visiting other ski operations in the Columbia Valley will need to be vaccinated.

Local heli-skiing company Canadian Mountain Holiday (CMH) announced on Wednesday, Oct. 6, that “all staff, and guests, including children, staying at our lodges, using helicopters or any other form of transportation, are be required to be fully vaccinated with a government of Canada-accepted vaccine at least 14 days prior to their arrival date at the lodge.”

Earlier in the fall Fairmont Hot Springs Resort had announced that “to ensure consistency resort-wide and across all guest and visitor touchpoints, overnight guests of the resort, RV resort, Spruce Grove campground and Mountainside Villas along with team members, pool and gym membership holders, ski pass holders, golf members, indoor and outdoor dining patrons and day users of the ski area, natural springs spa, retail shops and golf courses will be required to show proof of vaccination.”

Panorama and CMH each have a staff of roughly 500 people, making them the 13th and 14th largest employers in the Kootenay. More than 200 people work at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort during its peak season, making it the 39th largest Kootenay employer.

The largest employer of any kind in the Kootenay is Interior Health, with a staff of 5,300 across the region. The provincial government had announced a vaccine mandate for all B.C. health care workers back in September, which was slated to come into effect by the end of October.

Teck Coal Ltd., is the largest private employer (and second largest employer overall) in the Kootenay, with some 4,000 employees, and has not announced a vaccine mandate affecting workers at any of the massive mines it operates in the East Kootenay. The company did, however, announce on Monday, Oct. 4, that all employees working at its corporate offices in Vancouver, Richmond, Calgary, Toronto, and Spokane would need to be fully vaccinated by mid-November. Teck said the mandate was being implemented “in part because they (the offices) are located in densely populated urban centres, are accessed by mass transit, and share common spaces, including elevators, with other building tenants unrelated to Teck.”

Although Teck is the largest private employer in the Kootenay, it does not have any large-scale operations right in the Columbia Valley. Canfor Corporation, which operates the Radium sawmill, is the largest private Kootenay employer with a presence in the Columbia Valley, and it too has not announced a vaccine mandate for its employees. The Pioneer reached out to Canfor to see if such a move was being considered, but did not receive a response prior to press deadline. Canfor has a staff of 500 in the Kootenay, including 177 people at the Radium mill.