question period — Public Services and Procurement

COVID-19 Vaccine Contracts

February 17, 2021


Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition)
[14:48]

Honourable senators, my question for the government leader concerns the federal government not allowing the provinces to see the contracts it has signed with COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers. Without details on distribution timelines, provinces and health care workers won’t have the information to make decisions; decisions that will save lives. Canadians will continue to fall further behind. As of Friday, we ranked 39th on Bloomberg’s Global Vaccine Tracker. For a government that speaks about openness and transparency, it is inexplicable why you would deny Canadians answers.

Leader, why won’t you let the provinces see details such as the contract timelines for deliveries or penalties to companies for missing targets?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
[14:49]

Thank you for your question. As I have said on a number of occasions and will repeat, the government is working closely with the provinces with regard to the rollout of the vaccines. It is releasing as much information as is prudent and appropriate under those circumstances. In that regard, it is sharing delivery schedules down to the week with the provinces, so the provinces can make the appropriate plans. I said before and it must be repeated, as the Minister of Procurement, Minister Anand, has pointed out, these contracts contain clauses that oblige the government to maintain a degree of confidentiality. This is in the best interests of Canadians in terms of the security of supply that this government has managed to achieve. It is working with the provinces so that the provinces have as much knowledge as the Government of Canada does to plan for the weekly and quarterly deliveries of vaccines.

[14:50]

Unfortunately for Canadians, the Trudeau government’s lack of transparency extends far beyond the vaccine contracts. Members of an expert panel set up by this government last year to provide advice on vaccine procurement did not publicly reveal their conflicts of interest with drug companies while contract decisions were being made. It took several months for the Trudeau government to even reveal the names of the members of this panel. As Senator Marshall has raised many times, the federal government’s transparency on COVID-19 spending has come to a halt. Leader, the Trudeau government has a nice story to tell Canadians about its commitment to transparency, but the reality is the complete opposite. How does all this secrecy help Canadians struggling with the impact of COVID-19?

Senator Gold
[14:51]

The Government of Canada, working with provinces and with the support of all parties in the other place and here, is doing a great deal to help Canadians through this crisis. I won’t repeat all of the measures. They are well known here; we passed the bills to bring them into force.

With regard to the vaccine task force, which was what you started with, it has a conflict of interest process in place and embodies international best practices. With regard to transparency, I have been advised that the vaccine task force is taking the exceptional step of publishing a registry of declared conflicts of interest online, which is not typically the case. It will be updated following each government vaccine announcement related to a task force recommendation. Moreover, we should remember — and Canadians should understand — that the task force does not make funding decisions. Its advice complements the due diligence and analysis that government officials and other government partners do in order to protect Canadians.