question period — Public Services and Procurement

COVID-19 Vaccine Procurement

February 16, 2021


Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
[14:51]

Honourable senators, my question again is for the government leader in the Senate.

Senator Gold, last week, our Premier of Manitoba, Brian Pallister, did what the Trudeau government should have done months ago. The premier announced an investment in domestic vaccine production with Providence Therapeutics to provide Manitoba with two million doses of their vaccine candidate. Premier Pallister compared vaccines to insurance, saying:

Insurance against COVID is important. It’s insurance against sickness. It’s insurance, potentially, against death, too.

The premier also said Manitoba is being blocked from signing its own deal with major vaccine suppliers because their deals with the Trudeau government prevent them from doing so.

Leader, instead of praising Manitoba’s leadership or defending your decision to centralize vaccine procurement, your government attempted to discredit our premier, Brian Pallister. Why?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
[14:52]

Honourable senator, thank you for your question, but the premise of it is not correct. This government has taken a multi-pronged approach to its procurement strategy and, as I’ve reported, has secured enough vaccines for everyone in Canada who wishes to be vaccinated to do so by the end of September.

We know this virus is going to be with us for some time, and that’s why the government is making long-term investments in domestic manufacturing for PPE and vaccines.

I have been advised that the federal government welcomes Manitoba’s interest in domestic biomanufacturing for future needs, and at no point, senator, has the federal government prevented provinces from undertaking their own procurement.

[14:53]

I am not even sure, senator, how I respond to that because when you say the premise of my question was incorrect, your answer is as false as the minister’s answer was when she said Manitoba was not being prevented, when in fact they are being prevented. My question was why. That was a one-word question. You never even got close to answering it.

The Trudeau government didn’t give Providence Therapeutics the support they asked for last year, leader. Manitoba has taken the lead here again, much to the chagrin of the Trudeau government. And now, because they never had a back-up plan, the Trudeau government says they will meet with the provinces soon to discuss domestic vaccine production.

Leader, why has this discussion not happened already? When it comes to vaccines, why is the Trudeau government always several steps behind?

Senator Gold
[14:54]

Your question of why assumed that the government had blocked procurement, and that is not the case. The Government of Canada is in regular contact with the provinces because we share a responsibility to both plan and implement the rollout of the vaccine strategy for the benefit of all Canadians, and the federal government remains committed to doing so for the well-being of all Canadians.

Hon. Leo Housakos
[14:54]

Honourable senators, my question is for the government leader.

Senator Gold, your government has announced a deal with Novavax to produce vaccines at the same Montreal facility that was supposed to have been producing vaccines by last November as part of a deal with Chinese pharmaceutical company CanSinoBIO. Although it took months for Canadians to find out and months for your government to start pursuing other avenues of vaccine procurement, that deal actually fell apart just a few days after it was announced.

Senator Gold, why didn’t your government immediately try to find a replacement manufacturer and proceed with ensuring that the facility was still ready in the meantime? And what happened to the $44 million investment of our tax dollars? Why hasn’t this government, a year later, found alternatives to the domestic manufacturing of vaccines?

Senator Gold
[14:55]

Thank you for your question, senator. Of course, the question of the manufacturing in Canada, and more generally the provision of vaccines, is a matter that occupies all of our concern and attention. As the Minister of Public Services and Procurement announced some weeks ago, this government made serious efforts with each and every one of the firms with which it had contracted supplies to see whether they would be able, willing and capable of having those vaccines produced in Canada. Regrettably, that was simply not the case.

The government remains committed to enhancing, developing and strengthening our domestic manufacturing capacity so that, when future needs arise, we will be in a good position to respond to them.

Senator Housakos
[14:56]

Senator Gold, when it comes to all elements of dealing with vaccines and COVID, this government has been a disaster.

We now know the deal fell apart just three days after being announced, when the Chinese government refused to allow shipments of the vaccine to Canada for clinical trials. That’s what happens when you deal with communist regimes like China, Senator Gold.

But even now, your government didn’t learn its lesson because you’ve turned around and entered into another ill-advised partnership with state-controlled Huawei, again using the tax dollars of hardworking Canadians and putting our nation’s security at greater risk in so doing.

Senator Gold, at what point does your Prime Minister and leader abandon his reckless obsession with appeasing and trying to emulate China, and at what point does he put Canada and Canadians first?

Senator Gold
[14:57]

Thank you for your question. This government is not engaged in a policy of appeasement with China; on the contrary. Canada is standing up for the interests of Canadians, whether they are those who are arbitrarily detained in China or Canadians who are otherwise poorly treated.

It is also standing up for the principle that, in this complicated world, and given the very complex and intertwined relationship we and many other countries have with China, we are working with our democratic allies to exert pressure collectively on the Chinese government.

The announcement yesterday by the Minister of Foreign Affairs that Canada is leading a multilateral coalition to register the unacceptability of the arbitrary detention of citizens is one step, but only one step, in that direction.