General items: Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—November 16, 2020
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Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to congratulate you and all my fellow colleagues on your nomination to this important committee.
With me today are:
- Bill Matthews, Deputy Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC)
- James Stott, Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for Policy, Planning and Communications
- as well as other department officials on the line
Today, I am pleased to appear before you to discuss our requests for funding in the Main Estimates and Supplementary Estimates (B) for 2020 to 2021.
In our Main Estimates, PSPC is requesting $4.048 billion.
Just over $3 billion of that amount will be spent on property and infrastructure, including the Parliamentary Precinct.
$316.2 million is for payments and accounting; $170.8 million for government-wide support programs including the Translation Bureau; $206.8 million for the purchase of goods and services; $4.1 million for Procurement Ombudsman and $281.7 million for internal services.
Mr. Chair, I will also address our Supplementary Estimates (B), in which we are asking for an additional $720.8 million—with the bulk of those funds supporting Canada’s ongoing response to COVID-19.
Supporting Canada’s COVID-19 response
For the last several months, PSPC has been working non-stop to procure vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies for front-line health care workers.
More than 2 billion individual pieces of equipment have been secured more than half of that already delivered. We are increasingly returning to competitive procurements wherever feasible.
Equipping health care providers remains our priority, but the needs for PPE are also significant in other essential service sectors such as transportation, energy and food production.
This is why the department launched the Essential Services Contingency Reserve.
This emergency backstop allows organizations to apply for temporary, urgent access to PPE and other supplies on a cost-recovery basis. Today we are requesting $500 million in our Supplementary Estimates (B) to support this important initiative.
Additionally, our government has delivered to the provinces and territories more than 3-million rapid test kits in the last few weeks. We also continue to aggressively pursue vaccine candidates.
Canada now has agreements with 7 of the world’s leading vaccine developers and, through our contribution to the international COVAX initiative, Canada has the most diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates in the world.
We know that logistics associated with vaccine distribution can be complex, which is why we are not waiting to act. We are moving quickly on this procurement process and expect to have contracts for end-to-end logistics solutions in place in the coming weeks.
Mr. Chair, while our COVID-19 response is my number one priority, there is a lot of other important work taking place at PSPC.
On public service pay, I am pleased to say that we have made significant progress in stabilizing the Phoenix pay system and eliminating the backlog of transactions.
As of October 28, the backlog of transactions with financial implications has decreased by 71% since the peak of January 2018.
Managing real property and revitalizing the Parliamentary Precinct
Mr. Chair, I will now turn to another major file where work is continuing even through the pandemic—our portfolio of Crown-owned real property.
Building on the successful completion of the West Block and Senate of Canada Buildings, PSPC will continue to advance important work on the Centre Block and the West Memorial Building, which will allow it to accommodate the Supreme Court of Canada during that building’s renovations.
I will note that through the Supplementary Estimates (B) we are requesting $285 million to support operations, repairs and maintenance across all our buildings.
Some of these funds will be used to increase cleaning services to keep employees safe throughout and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Revitalizing science infrastructure
Mr. Chair, at a time where we are all looking to the expertise of our public health officials to guide us through the pandemic, the work of the government’s science departments and agencies is especially important to our daily lives.
As part of PSPC’s work on the government’s Laboratories Canada Strategy—our long-term plan to revitalize Canada’s science infrastructure—we have asked for $101.1 million in funding in this fiscal year’s Main Estimates.
These funds will support, among other things, the design and site selection for new laboratories to allow federal scientists to carry out their important work for Canadians.
Mr. Chair, this is only some of the important work being led by the department.
PSPC’s portfolio is broad and diverse, and the department’s work is vital to support this Government and all Canadians.
I am looking forward to working with parliamentarians, our client departments, Canadian suppliers and the dedicated employees at PSPC to continue responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and providing other essential services to government and Canadians. And I would be pleased to take your questions.
Questions and answers
Personal protective equipment procurement
Question 1: How much is your aggressive approach to purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) costing taxpayers?
Answer 1: The Government of Canada has dedicated approximately $6 billion, including $4.5 billion as part of the Safe Restart Agreement, to buy PPE, medical equipment and supplies for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), other government departments and the Essential Services Contingency Reserve (ESCR).
The majority of these procurements are dedicated to equipping frontline health care workers through provincial and territorial health care agencies.
Question 2: What was the process that led to contracts with domestic manufacturers for ventilators?
Answer 2: In response to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s (ISED) call to action, a number of companies identified their interest in supplying Canada with ventilators. Separately, potential ventilator suppliers had also come forward to the National Research Council and to the NGen Supercluster.
All of these companies—11 in total—were subsequently invited to send proposals to ISED covering the design of the ventilator, its clinical functionality, and the manufacturing plan, including details on the supply chain.
Proposals were reviewed by a panel of experts to assess the viability of technology and manufacturing approaches. The panel, which included medical clinicians, respirologists, biomechanical engineers, and manufacturing professionals, was asked to provide government with their best advice as to which designs would be most useful in the fight against COVID-19 and could be manufactured quickly to meet the needs of Canada’s public health system.
Based on the panel’s advice, Government of Canada officials identified 4 made-in-Canada ventilators, and contracts were subsequently awarded to CAE Inc., FTI Professional Grade Inc., Canadian Emergency Ventilators (Starfish), and Vexos for 37,500 ventilators.
Each of the 4 companies subsequently worked with Health Canada officials through the regulatory process to ensure the ventilators met all the regulatory requirements to receive approval under the interim order.
Question 3: How much of the PPE you are purchasing is being made in Canada?
Answer 3: In terms of Canadian manufacturers, approximately 40% of the total value of contracts is going to domestic companies, many of which were identified through callouts issued by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and ISED.
Question 4: How many N95 masks are being produced in Canada?
Answer 4: The Government of Canada has signed a long-term agreement with Medicom of Pointe-Claire, Québec, to provide 20 million N95 respirators and 24 million surgical masks made in Canada per year, for the next 10 years. Under the agreement, the Government of Canada will receive between 250,000 and 2.5 million masks monthly.
To date, we have received 1.9 million domestically-made surgical masks from Medicom, and we expect our first delivery of 4 million made-in-Canada N95s from Medicom this month.
In addition, the Government of Canada signed an agreement with the Government of Ontario and 3M Canada on a joint investment to expand a manufacturing facility for N95 respirators in Brockville, Ontario. The facility will produce 25 million N95 respirators for the Government of Canada by March 31, 2021.
Question 5: Why did the Government of Canada enter into a 10-year contract with Medicom, which had no existing domestic capacity to produce PPE?
Answer 5: Medicom was one of the first Canadian companies to sign a letter of intent with the Government of Canada, under Canada’s Plan to Mobilize Industry to Fight COVID-19.
This contract is an investment in domestic capacity to produce critical personal protective equipment, which will help ensure we have a stable source of supply—during the current pandemic and into the future—without fully relying on foreign suppliers.
Question 6: What is the value of the contract with Medicom for domestically made masks?
Answer 6: The contract is valued at $94 million over 3 years, with the value of the remaining 7 years subject to future negotiation.
The per-unit prices for the first 3 years of the contract are fixed, and are competitive with pre-pandemic pricing for these items. These prices will be re-negotiated after the first 3 years, based on the contractor’s costs plus profit levels established in the original agreement.
Further contract details cannot be disclosed, due to commercial confidentiality.
Question 7: What are you doing to help businesses and organizations that are interested in buying and selling PPE?
Answer 7: PSPC launched a supply hub, to bring together buyers and sellers of PPE and supplies in the Canadian market, and to share existing resources and information.
Since its launch, the supply hub has been viewed more than 133,000 times by individuals from across Canada.
Question 8: What steps has PSPC taken to respond to COVID-19?
Answer 8: PSPC has been supporting the PHAC since early January by procuring personal protective equipment and medical supplies. Recognizing that securing PPE in this environment would be challenging, the department launched a call out to suppliers in early March, resulting in more than 26,000 submissions from Canadian and international suppliers. As a result, PSPC was able to secure and distribute PPE and medical supplies to meet the most immediate and urgent requirements. Over the course of the last 8 months, PSPC’s acquisitions team has worked around the clock to procure PPE, medical equipment, rapid tests and vaccines, and has coordinated the delivery of products by air, sea and land. The department created a supply hub, a web site intended to connect buyers and sellers of PPE, and established the ESCR to provide essential services with urgent access to PPE.
To address this surge in activity, the department has redeployed staff to address the most urgent requirements and has since created dedicated teams to continue these efforts. This includes completely new teams to handle procurement around PPE, logistics, and vaccine and testing. In addition, we have dedicated teams supporting COVID-19 communications and governance in place to establish return to work plans and approaches. These teams come from existing resources through redeployments.
Additionally, the department’s Translation Bureau has provided significant support to Health Canada and the PHAC, translating many documents, some in multiple languages to support COVID-19 communications with Canadians. In addition to translation, the bureau developed a glossary of COVID-19 terms and provides sign language interpretation for the Prime Minister’s press conferences, ensuring that all Canadians have access to quality translations and interpretations.
In the early days of the pandemic, some of our work, such as responding to ATIP requests, were suspended due to limited information technology (IT) availability or experienced delays as we focussed primarily on our COVID-19 response. That said, the department’s regular operations have, in large part, continued uninterrupted, including pay, pension, payments and contracting.
I am proud of the efforts of PSPC employees who have risen to the challenges of working from home during this difficult time to continue serving government departments and Canadians.
Essential Services Contingency Reserve
Question 1: What is the ESCR?
Answer 1: While our efforts to procure PPE and medical equipment have focussed on meeting the needs of frontline health care workers, we recognize that other essential services, such as transportation and agriculture also required PPE. To prevent service disruptions that could occur due to shortages of PPE, we created the ESCR. The ESCR functions as an emergency backstop through which organizations can purchase PPE on a cost recovery basis, when other sources of supply are unavailable.
Question 2: What supplies are available through the ESCR?
Answer 2: The inventory includes, but is not limited to KN95 respirators, surgical masks, non-medical reusable cloth face coverings, non-medical disposable face coverings, gowns, face shields, hand sanitizer, disinfection wipes and gloves.
Question 3: Are the supplies quality tested? Are you repurposing products that failed to meet standards here?
Answer 3: All products available through the ESCR are required to meet established performance requirements.
Question 4: How is this different from the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS)?
Answer 4: The NESS contains supplies that provinces and territories can request in emergencies, when their own resources are not enough. In the context of Canada’s COVID-19 response, the NESS is primarily being used to meet the needs of frontline healthcare workers.
The ESCR is intended to provide an emergency backstop to meet the emerging needs of essential service providers across the country, rather than being focused specifically on equipping frontline healthcare providers as is the NESS.
Question 5: Who is paying for these supplies? Is the government giving them out for free?
Answer 5: Generally, access to the ESCR is on a cost recovery basis, unless requests come from provinces or territories, in which case cost recovery is waived. Prices are set based on the average price paid per product plus shipping. Based on best practices from other jurisdictions, fees are monitored and adjusted on a monthly basis to reflect fluctuations in prices.
A product list and price catalogue has been established. If approved, requesting organizations will be invoiced upon shipment of products.
Question 6: What if non-government organizations and other non-profits are approved to access the ESCR but can’t afford to pay on a cost-recovery basis?
Answer 6: The Government of Canada is committed to supporting these workers and organizations to operate safely, as they continue to provide services Canadians depend on each and every day.
If an eligible non-profit organization providing essential services is unable to pay for the supplies accessed through the ESCR, accommodations can be made to provide the materials at no cost.
Requests of this nature will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Question 1: How many vaccine candidates have you secured to date?
Answer 1: To date, we have signed agreements with the following companies to secure access to 7 COVID-19 vaccine candidates:
- Medicago, which will supply up to 76 million doses of its virus-like particle vaccine candidate
- Astrazeneca, which will supply up to 20 million doses of its viral vector vaccine candidate, AZD1222
- Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, which will supply up to 72 million of doses of their protein subunit vaccine candidate
- Johnson & Johnson, which will supply up to 38 million doses of its viral vector vaccine candidate, Ad26.COV2.S
- Novavax, which will supply up to 76 million doses of its protein subunit vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373
- Pfizer, which will supply up to 76 million doses of its mRNA-based vaccine candidate, BNT162
- Moderna, which will supply up to 56 million doses of its mRNA-based vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273
These agreements combined give Canada access to up to 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
Question 2: Are you still exploring other vaccine candidates?
Answer 2: We will continue to work with the PHAC, Health Canada and ISED, along with the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force to prepare procurement of COVID-19 medical supplies to protect Canadians. This includes exploring options for additional vaccines candidates and related supplies.
Rapid test kits
Abbott ID NOW rapid tests
Question 1: Do the Abbott ID NOW rapid tests really provide on-the-spot results?
Answer 1: The Abbott ID NOW system is a rapid point-of-care test for COVID-19. The technology can detect the virus directly from a nasal swab, returning results in as little as 13 minutes.
The testing device, or analyzer, is small and lightweight and can easily be transported to remote locations and operated with minimal training.
Question 2: Are these tests approved for use in Canada yet?
Answer 2: Yes. Health Canada authorized the Abbott ID NOW system for use in Canada on September 30, 2020.
Question 3: When will you receive these analyzers and rapid point-of-care tests?
Answer 3: As of October 29, we have received 202,032 Abbott ID NOW rapid tests and 280 analyzers.
Question 4: What is the value of the contract with Abbott?
Answer 4: Since Canada is actively exploring additional agreements for rapid tests, we are not releasing the contract value at this time, in order to protect our negotiating position.
In line with our commitment to transparency, we will continue to release as much information as possible about our contracts.
Question 5: How effective is this test vs traditional tests? (PHAC lead)
Answer 5: The ID NOW test performs approximately the same as a traditional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test when symptomatic individuals are tested.
Question 6: Is laboratory analysis still required with this test? (PHAC Lead)
Answer 6: No. This technology is designed to detect the virus on the spot, with results returned in as little as 13 minutes at the same location (that is: doctor’s office).
Abbott Panbio COVID-19 antigen rapid test
Question 1: Do the Abbott Panbio antigen rapid test really provide on-the-spot results?
Answer 1: The Abbott Panbio antigen is a rapid point-of-care test for COVID-19. The technology can detect the virus directly from a nasopharyngeal or nasal swab, returning results in just over 15 minutes.
The testing system is portable and lightweight and does not require specialized storage temperatures. It can easily be used at point of care in a variety of settings but must still be performed by a healthcare professional.
Question 2: Are these tests approved for use in Canada yet?
Answer 2: Yes. Health Canada authorized this test for use in Canada on October 5, 2020.
Question 3: How many tests will you receive under the agreement?
Answer 3: Under the agreement, we are purchasing a guaranteed minimum of 8.5 million Abbott COVID-19 Panbio antigen tests, which will consist of nasopharyngeal and nasal tests.
The contracts include an option for an additional 12 million tests for a total quantity of up to 20.5 million units.
Question 4: When will you receive these Panbio COVID-19 antigen rapid point-of-care tests?
Answer 4: As of October 29, we have received 2,265,600 Panbio COVID-19 antigen tests. Under the contract, we will receive a total of 8.5 million tests before December 31, 2020.
Should the option for an additional 12 million tests be exercised, delivery of those tests is expected to be completed by March 31, 2021.
Question 5: What is the value of the Abbott contract for its Panbio antigen rapid test?
Answer 5: Since Canada continues to explore additional agreements for rapid tests, we are not releasing the contract value at this time, in order to protect our negotiating position.
In line with our commitment to transparency, we will continue to release as much information as possible about our contracts.
Becton Dickinson Veritor SARS-CoV-2 antigen rapid test
Question 1: Do the Becton Dickinson (BD) rapid test provide on-the-spot results?
Answer 1: The BD Veritor SARS-CoV-2 antigen test can detect COVID-19 directly from a nasal swab in just over 15 minutes. It requires a handheld analyzer and must be performed by a trained healthcare professional.
Question 2: How many tests will you receive under the agreement with BD?
Answer 2: Under the agreement, we are purchasing a guaranteed minimum of 600 analyzers and 7,599,990 BD Veritor SARS-CoV-2 antigen tests. The contract includes an option to purchase an additional 1,572 analyzers.
Question 3: When will you receive the BD rapid point-of-care tests?
Answer 3: Delivery is expected to start as early as this month and be completed before March 31, 2021.
Question 4: What is the value of the contract with Becton Dickinson?
Answer 4: Since Canada is actively exploring additional agreements for rapid tests, we are not releasing the contract value at this time, in order to protect our negotiating position.
In line with our commitment to transparency, we will continue to release as much information as possible about our contracts.
Question 1: What’s the difference between the Abbott ID NOW rapid test and the Panbio antigen test? (PHAC Lead)
Answer 1: The ID NOW is a molecular test, which detects the virus’ genetic material. The Panbio antigen is an antigentest, meaning it detects specific proteins on the surface of the virus.
Contrary to the ID NOW, the Panbio antigen test does not require an analyzer. It’s similar to a pregnancy test and contains everything needed to perform a test.
Question 2: Where will the tests be distributed and who will decide where they go? Will they be distributed equally among provinces and territories or will the federal government retain some of them? (PHAC Lead)
Answer 2: The Government of Canada continues to work with, provincial and territorial governments to assess ongoing needs for medical equipment and supplies.
All provinces and territories will receive instruments and tests. Some instruments and tests will be retained for redistribution to populations under a federal mandate.
Additionally, we will be working with provinces and territories to ensure that device allocation is able to have the most impact based on existing and future COVID-19 hotspots in Canada.
Question 3: How many rapid tests has the government purchased in total?
Answer 3: To date the Government of Canada has signed agreements with the following companies for Covid-19 rapid tests authorized by Health Canada:
- Abbott Rapid Diagnostic ULC will supply up to 7.9 million ID NOW rapid tests, and up to 20.5 million Panbio COVID-19 antigen rapid tests
- Biomérieux Canada will supply up to 699,750 RP2.1 Diagnostic test kits
- Inter Medico will supply up to 1.2 million GeneXpert rapid tests
- Becton Dickinson will supply 7,599,990 BD Veritor SARS-CoV-2 antigen tests and up to 2,172 analyzers
COVID-19 testing technologies are advancing quickly as the pandemic continues.
On behalf of the PHAC, PSPC continues to explore additional agreements to secure access to the most promising candidates.
Question 4: What is the status of the Spartan test kits you bought back in the spring?
Answer 4: Spartan is currently working with Health Canada on the regulatory process and clinical trials to have their test authorized for use in Canada. For more details, please contact Health Canada.
Question 5: Media articles state that Health Canada has granted approval for the Hyris bCUBE to be used as a medical device for COVID-19 human testing. Have you bought these tests yet?
Answer 5: At this point in time, we have not purchased this particular test.
Question 6: Are you pursuing the purchase of additional rapid test kits from other companies?
Answer 6: COVID-19 testing technologies are advancing as the pandemic continues. We continue to work closely with the PHAC to pursue additional agreements to ensure Canadians have access to the most promising technologies.
Question 1: What is PSPC doing to increase transparency when it comes to the contracting for PPE?
Answer 1: Throughout our response to the pandemic, PSPC has worked extremely hard to be as transparent as possible.
For example, in April, we began regularly releasing public updates on orders and deliveries of PPE and other supplies, and in July, we began disclosing specific information about all of our PPE and medical supply contracts.
We posted the suppliers’ company name and total contract values for each of our medical and supply contracts with some exceptions:
- we withheld names of suppliers for certain commodities that remained challenging to get—N95s, gloves and swabs
- we withheld total contract values in situations where we had previously announced quantities of units ordered in a given contract. This allowed us to protect unit prices, which is considered commercially confidential and is protected under Access to Information legislation
This allowed PSPC to provide meaningful information without having to disclose actual contract text, which would introduce a broad range of disclosure challenges.
I’m pleased to report that on November 2, we updated our COVID-19 contract information on the PSPC website.
With this update, we have now posted information about 398 contracts. This represents over $6 billion in COVID-19 related contracts to support Canadians.
As well, given that Canada has now managed to secure significant quantities of most commodities and global supply has increased, disclosure risks for certain commodities have lessened. Consequently, we are now disclosing information about gloves and swabs. The majority of our COVID-19 contracting information is on our webpage—with the exception of certain commodities that remain hard to procure (N95 and tests) and contract values that still need to be protected for reasons of commercial confidentiality.
With respect to vaccine procurements, we have publicly disclosed the names of companies, the number of doses and the overall amount of money that Canada has invested upfront to secure access to these doses.
Moving forward, transparency will continue to be an essential component of our overall COVID-19 communications strategy, and essential for maintaining public trust in our response efforts.
Question 1: What is the department doing to provide support to the Tunney’s Daycare which had to close due to COVID-19 related costs in mid-October?
Answer 1: The Government of Canada is committed to supporting businesses and individuals as the country manages the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For its part, PSPC has ensured that rent relief provided under the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) Program was provided to all tenants requesting it in its buildings from April until the end of the federal program in September 2020 and we deferred its rent for the same period. In addition, given the unprecedented circumstances brought on by the pandemic, the department proactively reached out to its tenants, including the daycare, to determine if rent payments for the month of October should be processed. The department was advised by a daycare representative to proceed with rent payment.
On October 9, 2020, the government announced the new Canada-Revenue-Agency (CRA)-administered Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) Program, which replaces the CECRA Program, and will provide simple rent and mortgage support until June 2021 for qualifying organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rent subsidy will be provided directly to tenants.
The department remains committed to working with tenants during the transition to the new program. As well, knowing PSPC’s commercial tenants depend heavily on revenues generated from public servants, PSPC will work with its tenants to ensure that rent payments appropriately reflect landlords’ and tenants’ current realities.
As we are doing with all of our tenants, PSPC is in contact with the daycare to discuss potential options, including continuing to defer rent until the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy Program takes effect. As such, a letter was sent from PSPC to the Garderie Tunney’s Daycare’s Board of Directors on Tuesday, October 27 indicating that November’s rent will be deferred as an interim measure until a way forward is confirmed.
Question 2: Has the department been allowing tenants to defer rent and has PSPC been applying for the commercial rent relief program on their behalf?
Answer 2: Given economic hardships created by the COVID-19 crisis, PSPC took steps to allow tenants whose income had been affected by the pandemic to defer their rent payments for a 6-month period effective April 1, 2020. In addition, some of our tenants benefited from PSPC mirroring the CECRA 75% rent reduction program which terminated on September 30, 2020.
On October 9, 2020, the government announced the new CRA-administered CERS Program, which replaces the CECRA Program. This new program will provide rent and mortgage support until June 2021 for qualifying organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rent subsidy will be provided directly to affected tenants, while providing support to property owners.
The department remains committed to working with tenants during the transition to the new program.
Question 3: What is the total number of tenants of federally-owned buildings management by PSPC and how many of them qualified for the rent relief program?
Answer 3: As of September 29, 2020, there were 539 tenants in PSPC-owned buildings. Out of the 162 tenants that requested a deferral, 124 of those tenants have attested as being eligible for the CECRA Program. All tenant requests for rent deferral were accepted.
Question 4: Outside of PSPC and the National Capital Commission (NCC), are there other departments that would manage real estate with tenants?
Answer 4: There are other Crown corporations and federal departments and agencies that are owner-landlords and that manage commercial leases, like Canada Lands Company, National Defense and Parks Canada.
West Memorial Building: Real property services
Question 1: What will the rehabilitation of the West Memorial Building (WMB) consist of?
Answer 1: The rehabilitation will consist of seismic upgrades, restoration of the building exterior, refurbishment of heritage character and replacement of mechanical, electrical and life safety systems. Once the rehabilitation of the building is completed, it will be fully accessible and will include green features such as high performance skylights, triple glazed windows and green roofs.
Interim fit-up will accommodate the operations and functions of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) building’s current occupants (1 courtroom for the SCC and 2 for Canada’s federal courts).
Question 2: What work has been completed to date on the WMB?
Answer 2: In 2017 and 2018, work including abatement of existing hazardous materials such as asbestos, as well as selective demolition (removal of ceiling, floors and obsolete building systems) was undertaken to conserve and protect architectural heritage elements, and ensure conformity to current national building codes and Treasury Board standards. The rehabilitation of the WMB started with site preparation work in September 2019 and construction activities began on April 15, 2020. Structural work will as well as masonry work along the north façade will be ongoing this fall.
Question 3: What are the next milestones for the WMB?
Answer 3: Key upcoming milestones for this project are:
- complete demolition activities within the WMB required to accommodate the SCC functions
- initiate the structural upgrades to conform to the National Building Code standards. Finalize the building components and connectivity design with the clients and prepare the move strategy to ensure continuity of the Supreme Court operations
- initiate the memorial colonnade design activities, prior to SCC building occupants moving into the WMB because of its impact on the main entryway to the WMB
Question 4: Is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the Rehabilitation Project?
Answer 4: Construction activities began on April 15, 2020 following strict provincial and PSPC COVID-19 safety requirements and guidelines. Demolition and construction activities are taking place but at a slower than normal pace due to the COVID-19 situation. PSPC is monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on operations, procurement processes, construction activities, health and safety standards, and workplace standards.
Question 5: How will the rehabilitation of the West Memorial and SCC buildings fit into the government-wide greening strategy?
Answer 5: While the rehabilitation project must be designed to at least meet the existing requirements of the government-wide Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, the scope of work was adjusted to integrate additional greening features. These efforts will allow PSPC to achieve the 4 Green Globes certification for the WMB, as per the Green Building Initiative certification standards.
Question 6: How much will it cost to rehabilitate the West Memorial and the Supreme Court of Canada buildings?
Answer 6: More than $1 billion is being invested in the rehabilitation of the Supreme Court of Canada and WMB, of which $384 million is dedicated to the rehabilitation of the West Memorial Building. As we move through the various stages of the project, more detailed costs will become available.
Return to the workplace for federal employees
Question 1: What is being done to ensure federal departments and agencies have access to supplies for their employees?
Answer 1: PSPC has launched an online catalogue through which federal departments and agencies can purchase necessary supplies for employees. The catalogue includes items like non-medical masks, hand sanitizer and wipes, which may be purchased in preparation for employees’ return to the workplace.
Departments and agencies can request access to the online catalogue by sending an e-mail to:
Question 2: What has PSPC done to keep buildings operational during the pandemic?
Answer 2: PSPC has been in close contact with Health Canada to ensure appropriate cleaning measures are being implemented in federal buildings during the pandemic.
As of March 23, 2020, PSPC increased the cleaning/disinfecting frequency of high touch points and will continue with these heightened cleaning standards until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available or when new guidance is provided by Health Canada. High touch point areas include washrooms, office and common areas and conference rooms.
PSPC continues to work closely with departments and agencies to address any requests for enhanced or specialized cleaning based on unique program requirements or for suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the workplace.
In addition to the cleaning program, PSPC is implementing special provisions at the building operations level to ensure healthy and productive work environments. These measures have been developed through the guidance of PHAC as well as industry best practice associations such as the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada (BOMA), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and in compliance with Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR).
Examples include ensuring adequate performance of water and ventilation systems in line with up-to-date industry recommendations and Health Canada guidance, regularly flushing building water systems, conducting water filter checks, and regular maintenance activities.
Question 3: What changes have been made in workplaces to keep employees safe?
Answer 3: As the common service provider for Government of Canada accommodations, PSPC worked with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Health Canada to provide consolidated guidance to federal departments and agencies on measures to support a safe workplace.
Physical distancing and traffic flow measures have been implemented within common building areas. While re-occupancy preparations will be specific to the individual building, examples include:
- re-occupancy limits
- designated one-way entrance and exit points
- elevator protocols limiting passengers
- hand sanitizers
- wall signage and floor markings promoting physical distancing
- reduced seating in commercial areas
- designated stairwells for one-way traffic
- washroom occupancy restrictions
- modifications to security desks (such as barriers)
Accessibility considerations for persons with disabilities will be at the forefront of all re-occupancy measures—this includes height appropriate signage, floor markings that do not cause obstruction, and elevator priority for those with physical or mobility impairments.
Treasury Board Secretariat’s Federal Identity Program has developed “Temporary signs and markings guide for federal workspaces” which can be adapted to meet unique building requirements to help occupants navigate through the environment.
Question 4: Can COVID-19 be spread through building heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems?
Answer 4: The PHAC continues to reinforce that the virus is not known to spread through ventilation or water systems. The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
HVAC system(s) in PSPC buildings centrally distribute air into occupied spaces and promote appropriate air circulation and removal of fine particles that are suspended in the air. HVAC systems are closely monitored to eliminate potential cross contamination between washroom exhaust air and ventilation airflow, and appropriate temperature and humidity levels are maintained in occupied spaces to promote occupant comfort and wellness.
PSPC has implemented supplemental HVAC measures to promote occupant wellness in federal buildings and facilities, which include:
- increasing outdoor airflow into buildings
- increasing operating hours of ventilation systems to ensure good airflow
- the use of appropriate filtration
- monitoring for appropriate temperature and humidity levels
PSPC will continue to monitor ongoing research in this area and be prepared to implement new measures, supported by science and our health partners, for reducing the transmission of COVID-19 in our buildings.
Question 5: Given that building water systems in PSPC buildings have not been used in months, should we be concerned about Legionella or other contamination issues?
Answer 5: As fewer people use the building water systems due to reduced occupancy, there is increased potential for water stagnation that can increase the risk for bacterial growth (such as Legionella) and lead. In response, the following water systems requirements were developed by PSPC, in consultation with Health Canada, to mitigate these risks:
- regular flushing of the building’s hot and cold water systems to ensure continued water use while a building is partially occupied or unoccupied
- additional flushing of all fixtures before re-occupancy
- water sampling prior to re-occupancy and analysis of the building water entry and most remote fixtures when a building is unoccupied for more than a week
Mobile health units
Question 1: What is the $150-million contract awarded to SNC-Lavalin PAE Inc. for prefabricated and demountable buildings? What will these buildings be used for? Is this contract related to the pandemic and the April 24 announcement?
Answer 1: In order to meet the specific needs of the provinces and territories during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada awarded 2 contracts in April covering a maximum of 10 mobile health units that are easily stored, accessible and transportable for use anywhere in Canada. These contracts were awarded to Weatherhaven Global Resources Ltd. of Coquitlam, British Columbia, and SNC-Lavalin PAE Inc. of Ottawa, Ontario.
Due to the urgency of the requirement (because of the pandemic), the government did not issue a public tender for this contract. The contract was entered into following a limited invitation to tender to these 2 suppliers, who were selected because of their expertise in deployment and logistical support, as well as the experience they had demonstrated in previous contracts.
Question 2: What controls and precautions were put in place under this administrative agreement before awarding the contract without competition to SNC-Lavalin, and also during the life of the contract?
Answer 2: Canada entered into an administrative agreement with SNC-Lavalin in 2015. This agreement allows the company to continue to bid on real estate contracts and transactions as long as it remains in compliance with the terms and conditions. The company’s status under the Integrity Regime remains unchanged.
The terms and conditions that SNC-Lavalin must meet to maintain its status under the Integrity Regime are set out in the said administrative agreement. They include, among other things:
- the ongoing implementation of an ethics and compliance program
- the strengthening of communication and training
- the ongoing implementation of the company’s internal policies and internal control measures
- the completion of a risk assessment
In addition, the company has retained, at its expense, the services of a qualified independent third party recognized by PSPC to monitor compliance with the terms and conditions of the agreement. The third party assesses compliance with the terms and conditions of the agreement and reports regularly to federal government officials.
Question 3: How much have you spent on the Weatherhaven Global Resources Ltd. and SNC-Lavalin PAE Inc. contracts?
Answer 3: The Government of Canada has now paid $30,278,153.84 to SNC-Lavalin PAE and $30,991,591.99 to Weatherhaven. (As of November 3, 2020)
To provide a bit of context, these amounts include consumables such as the purchase of medical equipment (including intensive care tnit capabilities)—100 hospital beds per mobile health unit (MHU), ventilators, etc., and the purchase of medical consumables for 10 days (PPE, medical supplies, stationary) for 5 MHUs for SNC-Lavalin & PAE and for 2 MHUs for Weatherhaven.
Question 1: How much funding was approved for the Phoenix pay system in 2020?
Answer 1: Public Services and Procurement Canada’s funding request for a 3-year pay stabilization plan was approved by [Redacted] in May, 2020. The funding profile was made public in Economic and Fiscal Snapshot 2020.
This investment represents $910 millions over 3 years to eliminate the backlog of pay issues for public servants and to continue delivering and stabilizing pay for the Government of Canada.
Note: Please note that the above figure includes amounts for pension integrity ($8.7 millions/year for 3 years) and an amount related to a service contract renewal to adjust and modify the pay system $70.4 millions for 2022 to 2023.
Question 2: What will be done with this new funding to stabilize the pay system?
Answer 2: The approved funding for a 3-year pay stabilization plan of $910 millions ($280 million in 2020 to 2021, $280 millions in 2021 to 2022 and $350 millions in 2022 to 2023) will allow PSPC to continue with progress achieved to date, as well as continue supporting employees, departments and agencies across the government.
The plan prioritizes increased productivity for processing cases; reduced case intake volume; and accelerated implementation of system improvements. It targets elimination of the backlog by the end of 2022, at which point it will prioritize data quality improvements and preparations for the next generation human resources (HR) and pay solution.
Question 3: How much more will the Government of Canada have to invest to fix Phoenix?
Answer 3: With this new funding commitment, investments to respond to pay issues after the 2016 Phoenix implementation will be $2.087 billion by 2023. Up until every public servant is paid accurately and on time, ongoing investments will be necessary to achieve pay stabilization, eliminate the backlog and support employees experiencing pay issues.
Question 4: Why are we continuing to invest in Phoenix when there are plans to replace it with a next generation HR and pay solution?
Answer 4: We will need to rely on Phoenix until we are ready to transition to a new pay system. This is the main reason why the Government of Canada is still investing in Phoenix—so that employees continue to be supported and to ensure that we are well prepared to transition to a new pay system when the time comes.
Question 5: The next generation HR and pay team is preparing to launch a pilot with Canadian Heritage to test a replacement pay system. What does this mean for PSPC’s work on the Phoenix pay system?
Answer 5: The next generation team deserves great credit for their hard work and progress on the procurement of the next pay system. As the government continues to move towards finding a future pay and HR solution, though, we remain focussed on continuing our progress toward eliminating the backlog, stabilizing the current pay system and ensuring that employees are supported throughout the process. Even if we wanted to move from the existing pay system to a new one as soon as possible, the transition will require a few years and clean data from the current system. This is the main reason why the Government of Canada is still investing in Phoenix— so that employees are supported during the transition period.
Question 1: Is the Receiver General responsible for making COVID-19 related payments on behalf of other Government of Canada organizations?
Answer 1: The Receiver General issues payments on behalf of all Government of Canada organizations. This includes payments for measures the Government of Canada introduced in response to COVID-19, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), to help stabilize the economy and help Canadians affected by the impacts of the pandemic.
As of November 10, 2020, the Receiver General has issued 10,358,070 cheques and 78,390,950 direct deposit payments specifically related to COVID-19 payments.
Question 1: What is PSPC’s involvement in the WE Charity contract?
Answer 1: PSPC did not receive any requirement to establish a contract with WE Charity and has not awarded any contract to WE Charity. Employment and Social Development Canada should be contacted for questions related to the contract awarded to WE Charity.
Long Term Vision and Plan
Question 1: Are there any public engagement activities planned with regards to the update of the Long Term Vision and Plan (LTVP)?
Answer 1: The LTVP, which guides the evolution of the Parliament Hill and its surroundings as a national treasure, a center of democracy and a visitor destination, is now being updated. This next phase of the rehabilitation of the precinct will continue to be the result of the collaborative work of the parliamentary partners, PSPC and stakeholder groups. This will ensure that upcoming programs of work identify functional, flexible, integrated and creative approaches that highlight and preserve this history for future generations of Canadians and visitors to admire.
The future of the Parliamentary Precinct must be envisioned with the hopes of all Canadians in mind, so it continues to be a welcoming and meaningful place that reflects the values and aspirations of all Canadians. In order to do so, PSPC will engage with the public to obtain feedback on public amenities and public spaces in the precinct.
PSPC awarded a $57,900 (taxes included) contract to EKOS Research Associates to conduct a public opinion research through a national online survey in fall/winter 2020. The proposed public opinion research (POR) project is intended to support the update to the 2006 LTVP and future development of the precinct as a whole. The research findings will inform the planning for visitor-related infrastructure in the precinct, helping us to ensure that our initiatives are developed in such a way as to address the needs and aspirations of visitors to Parliament Hill, and the values that Canadians associate with the site.
We continue to leverage strong relationships with members of the accessibility community, as well as local Indigenous groups, representatives from First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations through the Universal Accessibility Review and Action Plan and the development of the Space for Indigenous People, among others.
We also continue to work in close collaboration with our parliamentary partners; the Senate of Canada, House of Commons and the Library of Parliament.
Question 2: Can you give an overview of the progress of the Center Block rehabilitation project?
Answer 2: Construction activity has continued to gain momentum since the spring on the largest, most complex heritage rehabilitation project in Canada’s history. Over the past several months, a tremendous amount of work has been happening both inside and outside the building. Some of the work is more obvious, like excavation for the future Parliament Welcome Centre (PWC), the disassembly of the historic Vaux Wall and other exterior work that is visible to the public.
We have also been very busy inside the walls, removing designated substances and carefully taking the building down to its bones. All of the IT systems, electrical and heating were removed and replaced by temporary systems for the lifespan of the project. As well, a great number of priceless historical elements have been protected on site or removed temporarily such has stained glass windows, murals and heritage lighting.
Question 3: Can you provide an update on the excavation activities for the Parliament Welcome Centre?
Answer 3: The contract for excavation of the Parliament Welcome Centre footprint was competitively tendered and awarded to Site Preparation Limited. This work is advancing as planned and is expected to take approximately 19 months to complete. The value of this contract and associated work is approximately $40M. In terms of progress, the Vaux Wall has been disassembled and stored, soil overburden removed, and excavation of rock is on-going in the western portion of the Parliament Welcome Centre footprint. To date, approximately 13,000 mᵌ of rock has been removed.
Question 4: Has the schematic design for the Parliament Welcome Centre been finalized?
Answer 4: Both the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration and the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy have endorsed a medium-sized Parliament Welcome Centre in summer 2020 and an initial schematic design that reflects this direction has been developed and is under review with parliamentary partners.
Further engagements with Parliament will occur over the course of fall 2020 to obtain key decisions that will enable the completion of schematic design.
Question 5: When is block 2 architectural design competition expected to launch?
Answer 5: Block 2 is the city block immediately south of Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa. It faces the Centre Block and its Peace Tower to the north. It is the threshold between the city-owned and Crown-owned lands. The block is bounded by Metcalfe, Wellington, O’Connor and Sparks streets.
Our goal is to transform this mix of aging buildings into an efficient and innovative complex that will meet the needs of a modern Parliament as well as the public.
The redesigned block will provide office space for the Senate and the House of Commons. It will include space for a branch of the Library of Parliament. It will also include renovated retail space on the Sparks Street Mall.
A request for qualification (RFQ) for the block 2 design competition is planned to be issued in late fall 2020. This phase will be open to all interested parties, who must prove they are qualified to undertake the work. Up to 12 of the firms that respond will be selected to participate in the design competition. The block 2 design competition will be officially launched with a request for proposals (RFP), and will be done in 2 stages:
- Competition stage 1: The selected competitors will be invited to submit an outline design concept. An independent jury will evaluate the outline design concepts and short list up to 6 competitors, who will then advance to stage 2 of the competition. This first stage of the competition where competitors are invited to submit an outline design concept is expected to begin in winter 2021
- Competition Stage 2: The short-listed competitors will be invited to submit an advanced design concept. The jury will evaluate the submissions and select the 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners
Recently Parliament indicated they would be represented on the independent jury.
- When there are no quotes for a specific date this means that there were no procurement-related discussions
- Any grammatical errors and/or indecipherable wording are due to issues with the recording of the interviews/press conferences
Coverage has been extensive and mostly neutral regarding the government’s agreements with 6 vaccine developers:
- Johnson & Johnson
On October 8, iPolitics reported that AstraZeneca’s vaccine could be available by the end of the year, and the article from Victoria Times-Colonist stated that AstraZeneca is so far the only company to have applied for Canadian approval Victoria Times-Colonist (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), submitting the application and its first scientific results on October 2.
Multiple articles were published following the September 22 announcement of an agreement with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline agreement, outlining that, to date, Canada has allocated $1B to vaccine procurement, which translates to a minimum of 154 million doses of a future vaccine. On September 25, Le Nouvelliste reported on Minister Anand’s announcement of the agreement with AstraZeneca (available in French only) to supply up to 20 million doses of its possible vaccine for COVID-19. Coverage was factual and neutral in tone, with the exception of a CBC article reporting on vaccine nationalism, which stated that Canada was snapping up vaccines “at the expense of poorer countries.”
On October 23, Toronto Star reported on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's announcement of the first deal for potential made-in-Canada COVID-19 vaccine (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article noted that the $173 millions investment would be given to a Quebec-based biotechnology company called Medicago. It's one of 4 companies or research teams that have received the Health Canada green light to do clinical testing in Canada. This new contract adds up to previous agreements with 6 vaccine developers
- Johnson & Johnson
Radio-Canada reported on October 23 that Novovax confirmed on its company website that Britain and the United States are set to receive its COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter of 2021, while Canadian distribution would not begin until the second quarter (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article notes that Canadian delivery of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine is also months behind that of Britain and the United States (US). Conservative member of Parliament (MP), Pierre Paul-Hus was quoted saying "We don't want to end up last on the list. Once the vaccines are approved, we want to get them quickly so Canadians can get vaccinated," while the New Democratic Party (NDP) found the news "very disturbing." The article states that
"the Liberal government says it’s confident that Canada will not be late to the finish line for vaccines." and notes that the government has multiple contracts in place with 7 pharmaceutical companies.
Coverage took a negative tone with the government’s position not to release financial information with regard to vaccine agreements as it would compromise negotiations with other companies. University of Alberta health economist Christopher McCabe is quoted in the articles regarding the US’s and other countries’ disclosures of financial details, stating, “
For a little while, it makes sense. But over time, it becomes a less convincing justification.” Minister Anand held a press conference on October 26 on the subject, stating that “We are in the middle of negotiation for vaccine, personal protective equipment (PPE) and rapid test kits. Extensive disclosure as contemplated will threaten our ability to procure these goods.”
Articles reported that several companies were in the midst of or beginning human challenge trials, and the ethical dilemmas surrounding them, the biggest being that there is currently no way to treat someone effectively were they to get very sick as a result of having volunteered for the trial.
On November 6, The Toronto Star reported that Public Services and Procurement Canada has issued a tender for vaccine distribution (accessible to Government of Canada employees only) to begin as early as January, dependent on a vaccine receiving approval. “
There's no dollar amount listed on the tender, and a spokesperson said the final price will be determined during contract negotiations.” The National Post wrote in a neutral article that the government has already decided who will get the vaccine first (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), as doses must be staggered due to vaccine availability. “
[The] National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended elderly people, specifically those over 70, be first in line for the vaccine, followed by health care professionals and then essential workers like police, firefighters and grocery store employees.”
On November 9, multiple sources including National Post, Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective after 44,000-participant trial (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), CBC, Trudeau says promising new Pfizer vaccine could be 'light at the end of the tunnel' (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), Radio-Canada, Pfizer and BioNTech announce vaccine against COVID-19 that’s more than 90% effective (available in French only), and Journal de Montréal, Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine based on unproven technology (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada empoyees only), positively reported on Pfizer Inc. announcing that following a large study of 44,000 participants, its experimental vaccine treatment is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19. The company also noted that there has been no serious safety concerns with the vaccine. John Paul Tasker (CBC), reported that Prime Minister Trudeau has said the Pfizer vaccine should be available to Canadians sometime over the first 3 months of 2021 (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article also quotes that Prime Minister noting that
"We've secured already millions of doses of that vaccine candidate and when it is safe to distribute we will certainly be beginning distribution in Canada to high priority groups."
Several outlets reported in a factual and mostly neutral tone on Minister Anand’s September 29 announcement of the federal government’s intention to purchase 7.9 million rapid point-of-care COVID-19 tests from Abbott Industries. The articles noted that the agreement with the US-based company includes the purchase of its identification (ID) now test which provides COVID-19 results in under 15 minutes and can be administered by trained professionals in various settings. Some of the articles reported in a more negative tone questioning when the tests would be approved and distributed. In multiple articles, Minister Anand is quoted as saying
“These rapid tests will aid in meeting the urgent demands from provinces and territories to test Canadians and reduce wait time for results, which is key to reducing the spread of the virus.” (Toronto Star, Ottawa plans to buy millions of COVID-19 tests that provide results in under 15 minutes (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), Radio-Canada, Ottawa ready to procure rapid screening tests for COVID-19 (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only), CBC, Feds announce plan to buy 7.9 million rapid COVID-19 tests (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), Globe and Mail, Canada to buy 8 million rapid COVID-19 tests (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), National Post, Liberals order millions of unapproved rapid test (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), Canadian Press, Ottawa unveils guidelines, deal for rapid COVID-19 tests as calls for approval mount (accessible to Government of Canada employees only)).
On September 30, CBC reported factually that Health Canada approved the rapid testing devices (accessible to Government of Canada employees only) and noted that the first batch is expected to be received “in the coming weeks”. On October 6, multiple outlets reported factually and in a neutral tone on the approval of additional rapid COVID-19 test, the first antigen device to receive approvals in Canada. The Panbio COVID-19 Ag rapid test device can produce results in less than 20 minutes. In a CBC article, Minister Anand is quoted as saying
“To be clear, the strategy in terms of our procurements is not to replace the standardized testing model but to enhance the capacity of provinces and territories to keep up with the increasing demand for tests. Our strategy is one of diversification across various testing types and models. (accessible to Government of Canada employees only)” The Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, who was previously questioned on the accuracy of antigen tests, said
“the new Abbott device will take pressure off overrun testing sites and offer specific "advantages" for remote communities where access to laboratory testing is limited”. By year-end, 8.5 million tests are to be distributed across the country. Radio-Canada reported that the Conservative Party health critic, Michelle Rempel Garner stated in question period that
“The test they’re talking about today won’t be in the hands of Canadians until the end of the year. They had months to do this and they failed,” and that “The prime minister has failed to deliver rapid tests. They’re not coming anytime soon.”
October 7, Toronto Star reported that Minister Anand confirmed to the outlet that the test is on track (available to employees of the Government of Canada only) to start arriving the week of October 12 and expects 2.5 million tests to be delivered by the end of the year. On the same day, The Hill Times spoke on Canada’s response to the need for rapid testing (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), stating that while rapid tests were being deployed to other G7 countries, “Canadians wait on the sidelines”. A similar sentiment was also shared in a November 5 National Post article stating
“Sadly the only thing we can count on Canada’s public health and health brass for during this pandemic is being at the back of the pack.”
Canadian Press reported on October 21, 2020 that the first shipment of the Abbott, ID Now test had arrived in Canada. The first shipment of the testing kit consisted of 100,000 tests and Minister Anand stated that 2.4 million tests should arrive before the end of December. The article does question how the tests are to be distributed amongst the provinces, noting that neither Health Canada nor Minister Anand’s office will disclose which provinces will receive the tests first, as well as the quantity the provinces are set to receive. In an October 24 article by Le Devoir it was noted that the majority of these tests—80%—will be distributed on a pro-rata basis by provinces, while the federal government will retain the remaining 20% in case of emergency. The article also questioned why Quebec, the province with the highest number of COVID-19 cases was not the first to receive the test. Liberal MP Marwah Rizqy was quoted in the article saying
"On Wednesday, the 100,000 tests for all provinces were delivered to Ottawa. On Thursday, which province got their hands on the tests? Ontario. [...] Why did those in Ontario receive them first and not us in Quebec? For God’s sake, that doesn't make sense! Our schools are five times worse off than those in Ontario."
Radio-Canada reported on October 30 that remote Aboriginal communities should be first in line to receive the rapid testing kits (available in English only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only). Remote regions are one of the 5 priority groups identified by the Quebec government to first receive the rapid tests. The article indicated that 453,000 tests were to arrive in Quebec City, including the 30,696 that arrived on Thursday October 29.
On November 4, the Ottawa Business Journal reported that Ottawa’s Spartan Bioscience is said to have received the go-ahead from Health Canada to begin clinical trials aimed at finding a solution for issues with its rapid virus test (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The company’s website noted that the studies from the trials
“will generate data to support our submission to gain authorization for the sale and distribution of the Spartan COVID-19 system in Canada.” The company issued a voluntary recall of 5,500 test following concerns over the effectiveness of the swab used it its test at the end of April 2020.
Transparency and opposition party motion
Media coverage has been extensive and mainly negative with regard to the government’s alleged lack of transparency related to details of the vaccine agreements and the procurement of PPE. The resignation of an infectious disease specialist from the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force was also reported and raised questions of potential conflicts of interests. In addition, the Conservative Party motion garnered negative coverage with some outlets questioning the legitimacy of Minister Anand’s statements that releasing this information could put existing and future contracts in jeopardy.
On September 2, Globe and Mail reported on the failure of the government to release vaccine cost estimates and contract information (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). Cecely Roy, spokesperson for Minister Anand, was quoted in the Globe’s article reiterating the government’s position with regard to
“not undermine Canada's negotiating position” and thus not
“jeopardize access to vaccines for Canadians". The decision not to release the information was also questioned by former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, now president and chief executive officer of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa:
"Parliament and Canadians will want to know that they are not being subject to price gouging by private-sector companies and are co-ordinating with international partners on purchases and distribution," and
"If the government's argument is that they will not release information on signed contracts because it will compromise ongoing negotiations, this could be a signal that the government already believes it has paid too much on early contracts."
CBC and iPolitics both reported on the resignation of Gary Kobinger from the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. Kobinger, who worked on developing a successful Ebola vaccine, resigned from the task force citing the need for more transparency. He noted his concerns that members did not have to disclose potential conflicts of interest. The CBC article notes
“the federal government sought out leading experts for the task force, acknowledging that that may lead to "real or perceived conflict of interest," but not initially requiring those conflicts to be made public.”
In a press conference held on Monday, October 26, Minister Anand addressed the Conservative Party motion to release internal documents associated with the handling of the COVID-19 and the risks related to document disclosures on Canada's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. CTV News reported that Minister Anand argued that passing the motion would undermine ongoing contract negotiations and threaten Canada’s ability to procure future COVID-19 supplies and could dissuade leading medical firms from doing business in the country. National Post reported that Minister Anand was joined by drug companies, manufacturers and the co-chairs of Canada's vaccine task force in calling for some confidentiality to be maintained in the contracts until after the crisis (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). Pfizer Canada President Cole Pinnow expressed concerns about the probe, saying that his company is concerned about the
"likely unintended consequences" of such a review. In a letter to Minister Anand, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), a group representing thousands of Canadian companies, raised its concerns about
"the risk of proprietary, sensitive or confidential business information suddenly being disclosed to the public".
Despite some objections from industry and experts, the Conservative Party motion was adopted by the house and requires the federal government to disclose documents on vaccines, personal protective equipment and rapid testing. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said that the government was
“fear-mongering” and that government cannot be trusted to censor its own documents.
“I don't believe that the government should be redacting its own documents” she said and that
“the government should welcome scrutiny, which is Parliament's responsibility, to ensure the country is on the right track in its response.” Conservative leader Erin O'Toole said the questions his party is asking were non-partisan and straightforward and that the liberals made this a political issue, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of wanting an election. The Globe and Mail criticised Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Minister’s positon and called it a “crock” (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). After the vote, Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez said
“I am disappointed that the opposition parties didn't listen to our health experts, to people from the private sector, from the companies producing the vaccine”.
Personal protective equipment procurement
Since early September, media coverage regarding general PPE procurement has been low with an emphasis on the fear of another PPE shortage in Canada. Le Devoir reported factually and mostly negatively on doctors who fear they will run out of masks and gloves again (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article noted that 58% of doctors in Canada are still worried about not having enough PPE to face the second wave. The article also mentioned that until recently, doctors had difficulty obtaining PPE: in Quebec, this was the case for nearly 44% of respondents to this survey, conducted at the end of August. Doctor's concern is highest in Manitoba and British Columbia, at 68%.
National Post reported factually and mostly negatively on the first shipment of 100,000 rapid COVID-19 tests that have arrived in Canada. The article also summarized what happened with the shortage of PPE in the spring. The article noted that Ottawa had negotiated bulk contracts for PPE on behalf of provinces. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is quoted in the article saying that more than 800 million pieces of PPE had been received to date and that 20 million of those were distributed to provinces this month so far.
The Post Millennial reported factually and mostly negatively on the federal government that overpaid $100 million for 10,000 ventilators that had never been
“approved in any jurisdiction to date,” a Department of Health memo revealed. The article noted that the agreement with Baylis Medical Company Inc. is a red flag, as the Conflict of Interests Act clearly states that former MPs should not
“act in such a manner as to take improper advantage of his or her previous public office.”
The National Post also reported that the federal government ordered 40 000 ventilators from five Canadian companies and eight international ones since the start of the pandemic (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article noted that, to this date, the government had received just 3,210 ventilators, remarking however that they have not been needed .
Radio-Canada reported factually and negatively that Quebec had not reached its objective of having a 6-month reserve of supply of N95 masks for the second wave. The article mentioned that even if Quebec has a low reserve of masks, the Minister of Health Canada recently assured that the supply of N95 masks was no longer a problem. The article also noted that the government of Quebec admitted that it faced various obstacles. Export control measures, still in effect on the European Union side and the United States, are among them. However, the government said it is certain to reach its objectives soon, considering that Quebec production (Medicom) will begin in the coming weeks.
Concerns expressed by provinces
A few articles have been published regarding the Manitoba government's claims that Ottawa asked its US counterparts to seize a shipment of N95 masks back in the spring and blocked a recent order of rapid tests destined for the province. In response to the allegations, Minister Anand said in a press conference on October 6 that she was surprised by the allegation and that the Government of Canada was there to help provinces acquire PPE. It was also noted that the federal government intends to pay for and provide to Manitoba and to other provinces the rapid COVID-19 tests. Minister Anand is quoted in the articles stating that
“We have not, and will not, block any provincial orders on (personal protective equipment) or any other items, including tests. On the contrary, our objective is to work with the provinces.” (Winnipeg Free Press, Ottawa to buy, have final say on Manitoba's tests (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), Winnipeg Free Press, Province's claim Ottawa diverted personal protective equipment shipment proves false (accessible to Government of Canada employees only))
In recent weeks, various media reported on the Speech from the Throne and the provinces’ reactions to it. It was mentioned that Québec Premier, François Legault, and Bloc Québécois Leader, Yves-Francois Blanchet, criticised the speech immediately for stepping into provincial responsibility areas and for not committing to increase health transfers to provinces to help deal with the pandemic. Media have also noted that Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, whose government has worked closely with the federal government throughout the pandemic, also criticized the speech: “
Today the federal government missed a critical opportunity to commit to a desperately needed increase to the Canada health transfer,” said Ford. Along with the other premiers, Premiers Ford and Legault are demanding that the federal government boost its share of health-care funding from 22% to 35%.
Winnipeg Free Press reported factually and negatively on the agreement with Abbott for the procurement of rapid-tests (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). Following the announcement, the Mayor of Winnipeg, Brain Bowman raised the testing backlog issue during a call with the Prime Minister and his office requested that the province be prioritized for rapid tests. The article noted that Prime Minister Trudeau told a Winnipeg Radio station 680 CJOB in an interview that
“Unfortunately, not every province has hit the agreed-to targets that they committed to, in terms of tests per day. It is up to the provincial government to roll out the resources that we've made available to them in the right way and ask for more if they need it.”
On October 24, Le Devoir reported factually and neutrally on the ID Now rapid test produced by Abbott (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article mentioned that the federal government ordered 7.9 million tests at the end of September. The majority of these tests—80%—will be distributed on a pro-rata basis by provinces, while the federal government will retain the remaining 20% in case of emergency. The Quebec government questioned the fact that Ontario received all of the first 100 000 rapid tests (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article noted that as of October 22, 881 classes were closed in Quebec schools due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Quebec is the province with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, 98,226 since the start of the pandemic.
Radio-Canada reported factually and neutrally on the Minister of Health of Quebec's statement regarding rapid test distribution. At a press conference held on October 29, Minister Christian Dubé recalled the undeniable asset that rapid testing represents to effectively fight COVID-19 outbreaks while maintaining activities as much as possible. The minister stated that the best example of application would be in the Indigenous community where volumes are minimal and far from testing centers. The opposition parties were unanimous: prioritizing aboriginal communities and remote regions as a whole is necessary.
Phoenix Pay System
Media coverage has been low and for the most part neutral with 15 articles relating to the Phoenix pay system since September 1. One article from Le Droit focused on a case where a federal public servant is dealing with paying back an overpayment (available in English only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only), though she states the overpayment was repaid in full over 2 years ago. Parliamentary Secretary Steven MacKinnon is quoted as saying
"All changes made to a pay file must be documented, otherwise we can't change the file. It baffles me to learn that people believe someone’s departure affects the development of the system in any way."
On a more positive tone, 2 articles (Radio-CanadaRadio-Canada, Système de paie Phénix : 13 semaines de paie sans fautes (available in English only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only) and Le Droit, De « beaux progrès », dit MacKinnon (available in English only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only) reported on Mr. MacKinnon’s comments saying that the Phoenix pay system
"has improved significantly" in recent months, having 13 pay periods without error. According to him, one of the big reasons behind the payroll problems was the implementation of the 2014 to 2018 collective agreements. “
This time around we see a lot less feedback errors and for the first unions that went through the systems, it was night and day.” That being said, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) believes that 13 pay periods without error is an improvement but also adds that
"PSAC members, who continue to support Canadians through the pandemic after 4 years of pay problems, have suffered enough. We’ve had it up to here. The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that our members are paid promptly and without complications." The updated Phoenix dashboard was published on October 15, 2020, and has not yet been reported on by the media.
On October 14, Heritage Canada was selected as the department for the first exploratory phase of the next generation human resources (HR) and pay project—or NextGen because it includes a good representation of the kinds of complexities that an HR and pay system is going to have to grapple with, according to Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray. The Hill Times reported that Debi Daviau, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), said that members of her union remain
"ready, willing and able to build this system." And that the Department of Heritage is
"big enough but not too big" for this project.
On October 24, the Government of Canada and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) finalized an agreement to compensate current and former employees who may have been impacted by the Phoenix pay system and the late implementation of the 2014 collective agreements. Radio-Canada reported that the Public Services Alliance of Canada is requesting that public servants receive financial compensation for their telework-related expenses, due to the COVID-19 situation (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only).
"It’s the employer's obligation and responsibility to provide all necessary equipment and create a safe and healthy work environment so that our members can do their jobs. This obligation does not change whether the work is done from home or in the office." said Alex Silas, PSAC Regional Executive Vice-President for the National Capital Region.
National Shipbuilding Strategy
The National Post reported on September 28 that COVID-19 is delaying the purchases of much-needed equipment for the Canadian Armed Forces (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). Troy Crosby, Department of National Defense’s top procurement official stated
“the department is still assessing the actual impact of those slowdowns, but that they have been most felt in the actual production of new equipment such as warships and aircraft due to physical-distancing measures and other safeguards against COVID-19.”
Times Colonist reported positively on Seaspan Shipyards officially handing over Canadian Coast Guard Ship John Cabot, the last of 3 offshore fisheries science vessels to the Canadian Coast Guard (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), on September 9. Seaspan chief executive Mark Lamarre said
“It's also a sign of how the [shipbuilding strategy] is accelerating industry momentum, enabling us to build not only ships but also a world-class pan-Canadian marine industry supply chain supporting thousands of jobs from coast to coast.”
CBC reported on the federal government’s plan to buy a used icebreaker (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), following a separate decision by Transport Canada to purchase a used ferry from Spain on an emergency basis. The Canadian Marine Industry and Shipbuilding Association (CMISA), which represents most of the marine suppliers and shipyards across the country, said both decisions represent a loss of domestic jobs and at least $250 million in federal spending that could have gone into a Canadian economy hard hit by the coronavirus.
“We're of the strong belief that vessels such as light icebreakers can and should be built in Canada” said Colin Cooke, president and chief executive officer of the shipbuilding association.
CBC also reported on a Radio-Canada shipyard workers being exposed to lead paint (accessible to Government of Canada employees only)investigation into shipyard workers being exposed to lead paint (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), without the necessary protective equipment while working on 3 Canadian Coast Guard ships at Chantier Davie Canada Inc. The article notes the significant delays between discovering the issues and introducing safeguarding measures. PSPC was mentioned in the article noting
“We cannot comment on this issue because it involves privileged communications of a commercial nature between Chantier Davie Canada Inc. and [the government of] Canada.”
On October 19, St. John’s Telegram reported on problems experienced by the first of 6 artic offshore patrol vessels (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), HMCS Harry DeWolf, during sea trials. Problems were reported with the vessel’s communications system (accessible to Government of Canada employees only) as well as problems with producing fresh water with the reverse osmosis system. Retired navy commander, Ken Hansen noted that the most troubling item on the list of problems is the communications issue, stating
“That's very interesting because the one thing you learn from a career at sea is that if anything can mess up your day it's going to be comms. That will be a huge fly in the ointment unless they sort it out.”
On October 26, Radio-Canada, Investissement Québec provides support to Chantier Davie for Defence contract (available in French only) and le Journal de Québec, Chantier Davie receives boost from Quebec government (available in French only; accessible to Government of Canada employees only) reported positively that Investment Québec will be providing Chantier Davie Canada Inc. with a financial contribution of up to $8 million which will assist in the repair of HMCS St-John’s. The articles note that HMCS St-John’s is part of a $500 million, 5 year contract to repair and upkeep 3 Halifax-class frigates for the Department of National Defence.
Several articles reported on workers at Irving Shipyard refusing to work in a job action against the company’s failure to follow proper COVID-19 protocols. CBC reported that lack of information and safety concerns is what prompted refusal to work by 90 workers at the Halifax Shipyard. The article notes that Irving made an error by not informing employees about a worker who was not required to self-isolate after coming to the Halifax job site from Québec. Nova Scotia’s top doctor, Dr. Robert Strang is quoted as saying
“If they're bringing these type of workers in, it's important that every worker in that work site understands and knows the protocols that are going to be followed to keep everybody safe.”
On October 30, the Ottawa Citizen reported factually and in a neutral tone on the federal government’s plans to award Chantier Davie with a contract to do a life extension on the Canadian Coast Guard’s largest icebreaker, Louis S. St-Laurent. The article notes the contract is being handled through the advance contract award notice process but that other companies can challenge the contract within 15 days. No information was provided on the cost of the contract.
Following the publishing a news release by PSPC on November 6, several outlets reported factually and in a neutral tone on General Dynamics Mission Systems signing a 6-year, $182 million deal to provide in-service support for combat systems on board 6 of the navy’s fleet of Halifax-class frigates, with an option to extend the agreement for up to 6 more years. (Ottawa Business Journal, Ottawa-based firm reels in $182 millions deal with Royal Canadian Navy, The Chronicle Herald, Shephard Media, General Dynamics supports combat systems on Halifax class, Naval News)
Future fighter capability project
On September 28, National Post article reported that COVID-19 has caused delays on the replacement of the CF-18s. Troy Crosby, Department of National Defense’s top procurement official is quoted noting that the 3 bids to replace Canada’s fleet of CF-18’s are still being reviewed and acknowledges that
“COVID-19 has slowed work on a number of other files, including many of the more than 100 procurement projects that were already reported behind schedule before the pandemic.”
Skies Magazine, Government awards design contract for future fighter infrastructure in Bagotville (accessible to Government of Canada employees only) and The Nova Scotia Advocate, Protests in Halifax and across Canada call for an end to fighter jet procurement (accessible to Government of Canada employees only) reported factually and in a neutral tone on the awarding of a $12.1 million contract to EllisDon-EBC Inc. Joint Venture of Ottawa to design a new fighter jet facility at 3 Wing Bagotville, an operating base for Canada’s future fighter aircraft. The new facility is set to maintain and operate 88 new aircraft being procured through the future fighter capability project.
On October 28, the Winnipeg Free Press published an article on the federal government’s lengthy process of replacing the current fleet of CF-18 fighter jets (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). The article explained that as part of the bidding process, now between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Saab, the manufacturers must provide a plan, the industrial and technological benefits (ITBs), to invest an equal amount of the contract value in the Canadian economy. During an October 27 media briefing, Boeing released information on its ITB program, including 5 Canadian partners that would contribute to the production of the Block III Super Hornet jet fighter. Skies Magazine reported that choosing the Super Hornet would generate $61 billion for the Canadian economy as well as nearly 250,000 jobs over the 40-year life of the program.
Garderie Tunney’s Daycare
Several outlets reported factually and in a negative tone on the closure of Garderie Tunney’s Daycare due to an alleged steep rent hike by the federal government. The bilingual non-profit daycare which initially opened in 1988, was granted 3 years of rent relief in 2016 after the rent was initially going to be increased by $150,000 annually. On October 27, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the daycare, which is located inside the Statistic’s Canada federal building, shut down on October 15 (accessible to Government of Canada employees only).
“[…] the COVID-19 pandemic caused havoc. Enrolment dropped and Tunney's had to hire more staff, modify the space, step up cleaning and pay for additional personal protective equipment. The federal pandemic rent subsidy kept it afloat until September, but in October the board was told it would have to begin paying its full rent of nearly $14,000 a month.”
A second article by the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is joining in the fight to save the daycare (accessible to Government of Canada employees only). Chris Aylward, President of PSAC is quoted as saying
“It's disappointing that a government that in its throne speech promised Canadians affordable, inclusive child care would allow this closure to happen.” The article also noted that the local MP Catherine McKenna is under pressure to help save the daycare. McKenna said in a statement that
“she's lobbied Minister of Public Service and Procurement Anita Anand, and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos to find a way to keep the daycare open.”
On November 2, the Hill Times reported that from April to September of 2020, PSPC has ensured rent relief for any tenants that requested it (accessible to Government of Canada employees only), under the Canada Emergency Rent Assistance Program. Michèle Larose, PSPC spokesperson is quoted as saying
“[…] the department proactively reached out to its tenants, including the daycare, to determine if rent payments for the month of October should be processed. The department was advised by a daycare representative to proceed with rent payment.” The article notes that PSPC is in contact with the daycare to discuss potential options, including continuing to defer rent until the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy Program takes effect and that November’s rent will be deferred as in interim measure.
National War Memorial
On October 17, several outlets reported factually and in a neutral tone on the Ottawa Police clearing out an encampment at the National War Memorial. The articles note that the group of protesters had been there since July 1 and that the operation to remove the tents and protest signs began at 6 am October 17 after the Ottawa Police received a request from PSPC. Global News reported that the move comes after weeks of pressure from the public calling for the removal of protesters. CBC reported that 2 people were arrested (accessible to Government of Canada employees only).
“According to Public Services and Procurement Canada, the protestors were notified through a written notice on Thursday that they needed to leave the premises.”
Document navigation for "Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates: November 16, 2020"
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