Ottawa Update – Week of February 15

Dear Constituents,

As Parliament reconvenes today after a constituency week break and the Family Day long weekend, I wanted to provide you with an update on some of the key happenings from Ottawa over the past 10 days.

Mandatory Quarantine Hotels for Air Passengers

The Prime Minister announced the government would be moving ahead with its mandatory hotel quarantine for air passengers arriving at one of four airports in Canada effective February 22nd. I have received a great deal of correspondence on this issue – both positive and negative.

Let me be candid with you – the government has not provided the opposition with any modelling or other data-based rationale for this policy change. The timing is also suspect, as the policy was announced just as we began to see massive supply disruptions for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. At the same time, we know this policy is supported by a strong majority of Canadians and that similar policies have had positive effects on case counts in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

The Official Opposition believes policies that deny people their liberty are not to be entered into lightly and continues to press the government for details on the data and for details surrounding the exemptions the PM says will be considered. We believe the government is underutilizing the tools that exist like rapid testing and variant testing capacity. If the government had not botched the vaccine procurement by attempting to broker a deal with the Chinese, Canada would not be 38th on the list of countries that have been vaccinated and these extreme border measures may not be necessary.

We are concerned about the idea of quarantining unaccompanied minors, those going across the border for non-elective health reasons, compassionate travel and family reunification. So far, no details on exemptions have been issued, other than Transport Canada indicating they will be extremely limited. The Health Minister has indicated that anyone vaccinated, entering Canada, will be subject to the mandatory quarantine. See our letter (from MP Rempel Garner, our health critic) to the Minister here.

For those of you who are wondering about the constitutionality of this policy, I do note that it is being challenged in court on an emergency basis by multiple parties and we can only hope the courts will rule quickly.

Land Border Changes Now In Effect

As of yesterday, February 15th, Canadians returning at a land border will require a negative COVID-19 PCR test. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants Canadians right of entry and as such the Canadian Border Services Agency will likely admit people even without the test, however, they could face fines of up to $3,000 and are subject to the 14 day mandatory quarantine.

Making Vaccine Contracts Public

As you are likely aware, the opposition and most of the Premiers have been calling upon the government to release the contracts it entered into with vaccine manufacturers. Last week at the Standing Committee on Health opposition members proposed a motion requiring the government table the contracts. Since we have a minority parliament, the motion would have passed, but was filibustered by government MPs. The last time government MPs filibustered committees with this much gusto was to stop the WE charity investigation – which makes one wonder what exactly the government is trying to hide. Rest assured the Conservative members will continue to press for this information at subsequent committee meetings.

Vaccine Shipments

As I said in my last update, these next few weeks should be quite telling in terms of what the reality will be for vaccine shipments.

We have been told that Pfizer will ship 403,000 does this week, 475,000 next week, and then 444,000 doses in each of the first two weeks of March.  Part of this increase comes because Canada has changed the labelling of each vial to contain 6 doses, rather than 5.  To get the 6th dose a special needle is required that is in short supply worldwide – the government has ordered more which are set to be delivered in April and May. This, along with the government backloading the supply of vaccines onto the provinces, will present a challenge in meeting the targets the Prime Minister has set out.

Moderna continues to see a reduction in deliveries due to factory retooling and this is likely to continue for some time, given that Moderna only delivers to Canada every three weeks.

AstraZeneca remains under review by Health Canada. The government is negotiating a delivery schedule, pending regulatory approval. The AstraZeneca vaccine will be manufactured in the United States, and possibly India, which helps to ensure that any potential EU export challenges are mitigated.

In Alberta approximately 145,000 doses have been administered which equates to around 2% of the population and approximately 50,000 people have received both doses.  Countries like the U.S. have fully vaccinated over 10% of the population.

Domestic Vaccine Production

Providence Therapeutics in Calgary finally got a phone call from the Government of Canada, after mounting pressure from the public and politicians to review its application to develop and manufacture a vaccine in Canada. The company has also signed a deal with the Government of Manitoba to provide vaccines and is in talks with the Government of Alberta. These vaccines are unlikely to come on the market however until late this year or early next year.

Election Timing

The speculation of an early election ramped up this week, with an article in the Toronto Star quoting senior Liberal sources drafting plans to go to the polls in June. Click here to read the article. At the same time, Newfoundland and Labrador, where a provincial election was scheduled for this past Saturday, has had to put a halt to in-person voting. The election date has been pushed out until March and will be mail-in only.

This unprecedented action was taken by the Chief Electoral Officer as a result of a spike in cases of COVID-19 variants. When the election was called, the incumbent minority Liberal government was enjoying a wide lead in the polls however what has occurred this week is an indicator how quickly things can go off the rails during a pandemic. Obviously this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Prime Minister and his election strategists. Calling an election prior to the country being mostly vaccinated and out of the pandemic now looks highly unlikely.

Ron Liepert