General items: Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—March 24, 2021
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Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, committee members.
Let me begin by acknowledging that I am meeting you from the territory of many First Nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.
With me are:
- Deputy Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), Bill Matthews
- Associate Deputy Minister, Michael Vandergrift
- Assistant Deputy Ministers Arianne Reza and Lorenzo Ieraci
Today, I am pleased to discuss Public Services and Procurement Canada’s (PSPC) Supplementary Estimates (C) for the fiscal year of 2020 to 2021. But first, allow me to address my department’s 2019 to 2020 Departmental Results Report.
A look back: Departmental Results Report 2019 to 2020
Among our many accomplishments for that fiscal year, we launched 2 Coast Guard vessels and delivered a third to the Navy. As well, the open and transparent competition to replace Canada's fighter fleet marked an important milestone in 2019 with the release of the formal request for proposal to pre-qualified suppliers.
We also advanced efforts to ensure that public servants are paid accurately and on time, and significant progress has now been made to reduce the backlog of pay transactions as a result of the Phoenix pay system.
PSPC’s work for the year also supported the government’s climate action and sustainability priorities by reducing our operational greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 60% through energy efficiencies in our real property portfolio.
Mr. Chair, these are only a handful of our accomplishments.
Of course, when the pandemic landed on Canada’s shores in early 2020, my department responded quickly to procure services, supplies and equipment to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
Today: Vaccine update
As this committee well knows, this past year was truly like no other.
The loss of precious lives, the depth of trauma experienced by Canadians and the damage to the economy wrought by COVID-19 continues to reverberate.
But with an ever-increasing supply of vaccines now flowing into this country, and more and more Canadians rolling up their sleeves, we are finally beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.
My department has pursued a diversified approach to vaccine procurement, and that approach is paying off.
Canada is now set to receive 36.5 million doses before Canada Day and we are continuing to work with vaccine companies to move up deliveries of doses. By the end of September all those who are eligible in Canada will have access to a vaccine.
However, we know that our extraordinary procurement activities will need to continue.
Continued support: Supplementary Estimates C
To that end, the majority of funding we are requesting in our Supplementary Estimates is meant to continue supporting Canada’s pandemic response.
Namely, PSPC is requesting to convert $380 million in unused statutory funding into voted appropriation.
This will allow us to continue procuring critical goods and services on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada and to help with Canada’s ongoing response and recovery efforts.
Mr. Chair, PSPC quickly mobilized a significant portion of its workforce to focus on COVID. This has left a large gap in the day-to-day operations of the department, which have not slowed down during the pandemic.
Therefore, we are also seeking $8.2 million to help PSPC handle other critical procurements to support the ongoing operations of government.
Beyond pandemic-related activities, we are seeking $6.1 million for additional resources to correct data errors in the federal pension system that were transmitted by the Phoenix pay system. While the number of incoming data errors has declined recently, a backlog of files has accumulated that requires attention. In addition, we are seeking $9.2 million for accommodation costs for pension administration employees.
And we are requesting a transfer of $1.6 million to Shared Services Canada as part of an effort to consolidate information technology (IT) services and decommission data centres. This will save considerable costs in providing data, email and telecom services for government operations.
Mr. Chair, PSPC will continue to lead on many other critical initiatives—from maintaining federal buildings, to defence procurement and supporting the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). NSS is revitalizing our marine sector and creating jobs for Canadians across the country.
I want this committee to know that we are applying recommendations from the Auditor General’s recent report on the NSS, and we are working with our partners to closely manage shipbuilding progress.
Mr. Chair, these are just a few examples of our department’s wide-ranging work to support Canadians.
The funding requested today will allow us to continue to do our important work for Canadians on many fronts, while continuing to procure vital supplies and services that are keeping Canadians safe in this time of crisis.
- 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
Overall media coverage has been extensive and mostly balanced regarding the government’s agreements with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Canada now has 4 approved vaccines for use, with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being the sole single-dose option. The Hill TimesFootnote 1 reported that the additional vaccine approvals will now give Canada “greater flexibility” in distributing supplies across the country.
On January 12, the federal government announced it had secured an additional 20 million vaccines from Pfizer to arrive in April or May, with a remaining 36 million that could be purchased should the need arise, and that the government is pressing hard in negotiations for early deliveries. It was also expressed in the same press conference that the provinces were free to pursue their own negotiations for vaccine purchases, should they wish to attempt to obtain earlier deliveries than what the federal government can provide. Global NewsFootnote 2, Journal de MontrealFootnote 3 and CTV NewsFootnote 4 reported that Canada passed on an additional 16 million vaccines from Moderna due to a delivery date past the expected completion of vaccinating the population.
CBCFootnote 5 reported on January 14 that Canada will receive 1 million doses per week beginning in April, with as many as 20 million people fully vaccinated between April and June. The article notes this figure is dependent on other vaccines, beyond Pfizer and Moderna, being approved. Multiple outlets quoted Minister Anand on January 14 and 15 as saying that Quebec’s plan to use all their doses, and pushing the timing for the second dose far beyond the advised timeline (42 days maximum), means it could get harder to convince vaccine makers to ship more quickly.
On January 16, Pfizer announced shipments would be delayed while they upgrade their European facilities, a report which garnered extensive, negative media coverage. The Globe and MailFootnote 6 reported that Canada will wait longer than Europe for the Pfizer vaccine, though Pfizer initially stated the delays would be equal. The Miramichi LeaderFootnote 7 reported that the Minister has assured that the slower arrival of vaccines will not impact the goal of September for full inoculation. The Globe and MailFootnote 8 reported that the delays, while the government states do not push back the overall end goal, mean more people will have to wait longer and potentially miss the timing for their second dose. On January 19, it was announced that Canada would not receive any of the promised vaccines the following week. “Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she is pressing Pfizer and other vaccine suppliers to speed up their deliveries and increase shipments destined for Canada, but all she would commit to are existing contracted timelines which would see enough vaccine in Canada and available for distribution "by the end of September."” (Toronto StarFootnote 9)
On January 29, it was reported that Moderna will also be reducing its shipment of vaccines to Canada by 20% to 25% in February. Canada expected 230,400 shots to be delivered in the first week of February and will instead receive 180,000, while the further 249,600 shots expected late February will also be reduced. CBCFootnote 10 quotes the Prime Minister as saying "This temporary delay doesn't change the fact that we will still receive 2 million doses of the Moderna vaccine before the end of March, as we've been saying for months." CBCFootnote 11 followed up on February 3 with an article stating that Moderna shipments would be further delayed in February, and that the Prime Minister would not answer questions as to whether the number of promised doses would still arrive by month end.
On February 2, the Globe and MailFootnote 12 reported that Canada signed a tentative deal with Novavax to make vaccines in Canada at a new National Research Council (NRC) facility in Montreal when the building is finished. Additionally, several outlets reported that the European Union (EU) gave verbal assurances that it would not delay vaccine shipments through export controls. The Hill TimesFootnote 13 reported that the government is preparing a contingency plan should that promise fall through.
On February 3, the Globe and MailFootnote 14 reported that Canada is the only G7 country to take vaccines from the COVAX fund, up to 1.1 million AstraZeneca vaccines by the end of March and up to 3.2 million by the end of June. The article notes that there is a discrepancy as Canada is shown to only be allotted 1.9 million, and Minister Anand’s office is quoted as saying they are seeking clarification. On February 6, CTV NewsFootnote 15 reported that it is “morally wrong” to obtain vaccines earmarked for poorer countries.
iPoliticsFootnote 16 and the Times-ColonistFootnote 17 reported on a Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies February poll that found 69% of Canadians blame the federal government for vaccine delays as opposed to individual provinces.
The Toronto SunFootnote 18 reported on February 11 that vaccine dose deliveries are set to more than quadruple in the upcoming week, with the single biggest shipment of vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech to date and almost 2 million doses expected in the next month.
The Times ColonistFootnote 19 reported on February 26 that, through a deal with Verity Pharmaceutical Canada Inc. and the Serum Institute of India, Canada has secured 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine obtained Health Canada approval on the same day. The Hill TimesFootnote 20 quoted Minister Anand noting that the first 500,000 doses are expected “in the coming days and weeks”.
On March 5, Health Canada announced the approval of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. While this is the fourth vaccine approved for use in Canada, it is the first single-dose vaccine. Multiple outlets, including the National PostFootnote 21 and Ottawa CitizenFootnote 22 reported on the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine noting that Canada has pre-purchased 10 million doses with options to purchase an additional 28 million. Joelle Paquette, Director General for vaccines at Public Services and Procurement Canada is referenced in a National PostFootnote 21 article that delivery of the newly approved vaccine is not expected to begin until at least April with all 10 million doses scheduled to arrive by September.
Multiple outlets, including National PostFootnote 23, Miramichi LeaderFootnote 24 and the Ottawa SunFootnote 25 reported on Minister Anand stating that Canada expects to receive 36.5 million doses by the end of June. The National PostFootnote 23 also reported that 910,000 doses are expected the week of March 8, with 445,000 doses coming from Pfizer-BioNTech and the remaining 465,000 doses from Moderna.
On March 8, New Westminster RecordFootnote 26 reported on the federal government awaiting more details from Johnson & Johnson regarding doses due to be delivered to Canada after regulars approved the vaccine on Friday. The article notes that Minister Anand stated that the new vaccine would begin to arrive sometime in the second quarter, with an initial order of 10 million doses to be delivered by September and the option of ordering an additional 27 million more.
On March 11, several outlets, (Ottawa CitizenFootnote 27, The Globe and MailFootnote 28, Le SoleilFootnote 29) reported on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of a new Pfizer accelerated delivery schedule, with one million doses arriving each week between March 22 and May 10. The articles noted that Canada has so far delivered 3.8 million doses to the provinces and territories. CBC NewsFootnote 30 reported that Canada is on track to receive 36.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by July.
On March 15, National PostFootnote 31 reported that Canada's Public Health Agency is expecting a smaller shipment of vaccines for the week. The article noted that fewer than 445,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are scheduled for delivery. The article also stated that Minister Anand has said that Canada is due to receive 118 million before September 30.
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from the Hill TimesFootnote 20 article:
"We pursued advance-purchase agreements with seven leading vaccine manufacturers to place Canadians in the best bet possible"
Quote from CBCFootnote 32 article:
"We heard throughout this crisis from various premiers that they were looking to procure their own personal protective equipment (PPE) or vaccines now, as the case may be. And we, as a federal government, are in no way inhibiting or blocking them from doing so"
Quote from the Globe and MailFootnote 33 article:
"Our engagement with vaccine developers, including my personal contact with them, continues on a daily basis in order to press for Canada's delivery schedules to move up, for the receipt of additional doses earlier"
Joelle Paquette, Director General for vaccines at Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from National Post Footnote 21 article:
"At the moment, we are still in discussion with Johnson & Johnson to determine where their doses will be coming from and the delivery schedule"
Coverage has been extensive, mostly factual and increasingly negative regarding vaccine distribution, which has been reported to be slow. In early January, provinces stated supply was the biggest barrier to the COVID-19 immunization campaign, though outlets reported that federal data showed that only half of their current supply had been administered. However, by mid-January, several provinces (British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Ontario and Quebec) have explained that they have either already run out of supply, or will do so within a week. Minister Anand is referenced as saying Canada continues to push for more and swifter shipments.
National PostFootnote 34 reported that “you might be confused” if you listen to federal ministers regarding vaccine rollout strategy and timelines. The journalist writes that Minister Anand is not consistent with her talking points regarding whether new vaccines need to be approved in order for the entire population to be vaccinated on schedule, by fall of 2021.
On January 27, outlets continued to report on the shortage of Pfizer vaccines and potential further delays with “politicians everywhere becoming vaccine nationalists.” (National PostFootnote 35) Multiple outlets reported on various countries’ efforts to increase vaccine deliveries, with court orders, export freezes and other options being discussed (CBCFootnote 36), among them Germany’s possibly limiting AstraZeneca exports (National PostFootnote 37, Times & TranscriptFootnote 38). German officials are quoted as stating that the European Union (EU) contributed billions of dollars to the research and development (R&D) of these vaccines and the pharmaceutical companies must deliver on their “obligations.”
Health Canada officially recognized that each vial contains 6 doses of its vaccine as opposed to 5. In addition to reducing the number of vials that the company would send to Canada, this approach also requires the use of a specialized syringe—low dead volume—which is in short supply globally. The Globe and MailFootnote 39 reported on February 10 that Minister Anand stated the government had ordered 64 million syringes to be delivered by May.
La Presse CanadienneFootnote 40 reported that Jagmeet Singh, New Democrat Party (NDP) leader, stated the military should assist with vaccine distribution. “The provinces haven't specially asked for that,” Singh said in an interview. “But we've got the capacity to use the military, set up sites in federal facilities and federal buildings across the country. There seems to be this notion that, 'OK, we get the supply, then it's up to the provinces to deliver it.' And I don't buy that.”
With the recent approval of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Canada currently has 4 approved vaccines for use across the country. In an article from the London Free PressFootnote 41, Prime Minister Trudeau indicated that he was hopeful that the original timeline of September 2021 to vaccinate all willing Canadians could be moved up.
Following a COVID-19 press conference, several outlets reported on Canada now expecting to receive 36.5 million vaccine doses by the end of June. "We are expecting far more doses by September than there are Canadians, even given that we're only talking about doses from 4 different approved companies right now," Trudeau said. The articles noted that this all adds up to Canadians getting vaccines sooner than originally planned (Miramichi LeaderFootnote 42, National PostFootnote 43, CBCFootnote 44).
Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta
Quote from CBC Footnote 32 article:
"But as I've pointed out, our capacity [to administer vaccines] by that point, at the end of March, will far, far outstrip the incoming supply"
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Quote from London Free Press Footnote 34 article:
"We're very optimistic that we're going to be able to accelerate some of these timelines," he said. "We're going to continue to do everything we can to allow our population to get through this challenge as quickly as possible"
Media coverage relating to rapid testing in Canada was high and for the most part factual, covering topics such as the Spartan Bioscience Inc. rapid test, the Spartan Cube, as well as covering how and where the rapid tests are being used. The tone of the articles was vast and ranged from neutral to negative.
Several outlets including the Edmonton SunFootnote 45 published relating to the recalled Spartan Cube. The Winnipeg SunFootnote 46 reported that the federal government ordered approximately 2 million tests without confirming the effectiveness of the test. Following an initial delivery of approximately 5,500 tests, it was discovered that the tests failed clinical trials on May 1, 2020. The tests were voluntarily recalled, though Health Canada had already ordered 120,000 kits for June 2020 and an additional 200,000 tests per month from July until March 2021. The article notes a contract value of $149,048,550 and questions why testing was not done prior to placing a large order. The Ottawa CitizenFootnote 47 reported that shipments to the federal government are expected to start as early as the week of January 25 with provincial shipments to follow. As production of the test increases, 200,000 rapid tests per week are expected to be produced by Spartan. The remainder of the articles highlighted how provinces are choosing to use the tests provided by the federal government.
Dr. Jamie Spiegelman
Quote from Ottawa Citizen Footnote 30 article:
"This is going to be a game-changer in making diagnoses and helping to open the economy"
Quote from Edmonton Sun Footnote 36 article:
"The Spartan system will be able to provide quality results to remote communities, industries and settings with limited lab access, helping relieve the burden on overwhelmed healthcare facilities"
Personal protective equipment procurement
Coverage has been somewhat low in January regarding PPE procurement. Since the beginning of the pandemic, some media negatively reported on contracts awarded to companies for the supply of personal protective equipment in Canada. The articles raised that at least 35 contracts were awarded to foreign companies for a total of 607.7 million, instead of prioritizing Canadian companies. The federal government also awarded a 371-million contract to secure personal protective equipment to Proline Advantage Inc., a small company said to have no prior experience in PPE procurement. This contract has drawn media attention and raised some concerns among Conservative member of Parliament (MP)s and some supply chain experts. The articles also mentioned Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner’s motion calling on the federal government to release details regarding procurement contracts. Despite the critics, Proline Advantage Inc. delivered the goods and fulfilled its contract obligations by August.
In January, CBCFootnote 48 Marketplace published the findings of an investigation on poor working conditions in some Malaysian PPE factories supplying Canadian hospitals with nitrile gloves. The story reported that the production line, filled mostly with migrant workers, is cramped and COVID-19 protocols like sanitizing, physical distancing or mask-wearing, meant to protect against the spread of the virus, do not seem to be enforced. There are indications that forced labour may be taking place in these factories. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) Minister Anand is mentioned in the article stating that the department is looking at the companies with federal contracts for nitrile gloves imported from the 5 Malaysian companies Marketplace investigated.
In early February, CBCFootnote 49 and the Toronto SunFootnote 50 reported on documents tabled with the House of Commons Health Committee that showed the federal government missed an opportunity to purchase critical pandemic-related supplies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The articles note that Canada “missed out” on an offer of N95 masks from Honeywell at the beginning of the pandemic. The articles mention political email exchanges revealing how the government struggled to respond to PPE brokers large and small.
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from the CBC Footnote 31 article:
"We are working with our suppliers to investigate these allegations to verify that their supply chains are indeed free from forced labour"
Anand said her objective as Minister "is to ensure the timely delivery of goods to support Canada's COVID-19 response while ensuring ethical business practices throughout the supply chain"
Several articles were published regarding the lack of contract details with vaccine makers and the price paid for vaccines. The articles were negative in tone, suggesting that it is not clear where and how money is being spent.
With the early arrival of vaccines, the question of price was frequently reported. The Prime Minister did not say if the early arrival came at an increased cost and Minister Anand stated that Canada has paid “fair market value”.
The Toronto StarFootnote 51 reported that on top of the 1 billion spent on vaccines, Minister Anand said that the government has now paid an unspecified extra amount to obtain early doses last month.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner requested a motion to disclose of all pandemic-related information from emails, documents and other notes and records detailing the purchase of PPE related items as well as vaccine contracts. Minister Anand offered that information could be found on the PSPC website detailing 6 billion of emergency-related procurement to date. Some articles reported that information found on the PSPC website was not clear, information was missing and names and values were hidden. Articles noted that at that time, 41 company names were hidden, as well as the values of approximately a dozen contracts.
CBC Footnote 24 reported that during an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, January 26, the opposition stated that the vaccination plan for Canadians was not sufficiently detailed and called for the release of all contracts signed with vaccine manufacturers. The federal government cited that the contracts “are necessarily confidential”.
Multiple outlets continue to report on the fact that while other countries such has the US, European Union and Israel have released its vaccine contract information, Canada has yet to release any contract details. Minister Anand explained that “Every country is different, given their domestic capacity, for example. And therefore the negotiations with countries and the resulting contracts are not identical.” A consequence of not releasing contract information is the questions it raises, such as penalties for failing to meet delivery targets, as reported in the Toronto StarFootnote 52 or the Globe and MailFootnote 53 questioning if Canada has negotiated any assurances in the contracts. CBCFootnote 54 reported that when asked if Canada’s 2 vaccine suppliers would face any legal recourse if they don’t meet their contractual obligations, Prime Minster Trudeau did not respond.
The Journal de MontréalFootnote 55 and the Globe and MailFootnote 56 reported on a Statistics Canada analysis providing information on the price Canada has paid for vaccines. Using import transactions and the number of vaccines said to be delivered in December, Statistics Canada calculated that Canada has paid $37.72 per dose. It is noted that the government would not comment on the analysis and despite evidence that other countries have paid less, Canadian contract details have not been released.
The Toronto StarFootnote 57 reported on the “fragile” global supply chain for special “low dead-volume” syringes required to extract the sixth dose from the Pfizer vaccine vials. As a result of the global demand for the syringes, Canada is keeping key contract details secret. Minister Anand was quoted in the article noting that similar to the situation in March with N95 masks, details on the suppliers have not been released “because we actually are in a tight race to procure these syringes.”
Several outlets including the National Post Footnote 58 and iPolitics Footnote 59 reported that opposition MPs passed a motion requiring the government to release the 7 contracts signed with vaccine manufacturers. Conservative MP John Barlow tabled the motion on February 19 in the House of Commons which also compels the parliamentary law clerk to prioritize the translating and publishing of the 7 contracts. The contracts would be reviewed to remove any information that could possibly jeopardize national security or compromise the contracts themselves. Minister Anand maintains in an article by the Toronto Sun Footnote 60 that releasing contract details would be a potential breach of contract and would risk receiving further vaccines. Minister Anand explains in a National Post Footnote 41 article that all countries are different and despite others releasing contract details she states that "every country is different given their domestic capacity for example, and therefore the negotiations with countries and the resulting contracts are not identical."
The Globe and MailFootnote 61 reported that despite the federal government being resistant to release any vaccine contract information, citing commercial confidentiality, Novavax has published its agreement with Canada to provide 52 million doses of its vaccine. The published contract which was filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission indicates that the final deal was signed on January 19. The article notes that the Prime Minister had previously stated that the contract was inked last August however it is not specified whether that was a tentative agreement or the final contract.
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from Globe and MailFootnote 62 article:
"(…) we did put price on the table, of course, as well as a number of other factors. And it is as a result of our very strong position at the negotiating table that we were able to sign with Pfizer and Moderna first, that we were at the front of the line for Pfizer and Moderna"
Quote from CBC RadioFootnote 63 article:
“I realize that there is the desire to see these contracts. I just want to emphasize, as a former law professor, that contracts are bilateral agreements made between 2 parties and therefore, the government of Canada cannot simply take a unilateral decision to release our contracts without putting in jeopardy our entire vaccine supply”
John Barlow, Conservative Member of Parliament (Foothills)
Quote from National Post Footnote 41 article:
Barlow said Friday it's become apparent "that other countries have negotiated some better commitments and penalty clauses into their contracts that we have not. I think those contracts should be made public, or as public as public can be. And Canadians deserve to know that"
Concerns expressed by provinces and territories
Coverage was relatively high in January regarding provinces’ feedback over vaccine distributions. In early January, it was reported that provinces and territories were "at odds" with the federal government regarding vaccine distribution. Federal data showed that only half of their current supply had been administered. Many articles stated that it seems less a distribution issue and more of a poor administration strategy. Premier Doug Ford said Ontario is about to exhaust its current supply, and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has compared available supplies to a "squirt gun." Premier François Legault stated that Quebec could vaccinate 250,000 per week if it was not for the short supply. Some provinces, like Quebec, have been examining whether to space out their doses in order to vaccinate more of the population while waiting for deliveries, delay second doses, or administer half doses in order to ensure adequate supply. However, this is noted to be a risky strategy as modified doses have not been studied for their efficacy. CBC Footnote 32 also reported that Alberta is considering making agreements with vaccine makers. The article highlighted that provinces were free to pursue their purchase agreements.
Following Minister Anand’s announcement in mid-January stating that Canada will see a reduction in the deliveries of the Pfizer vaccines for the next couple of weeks, some provinces, like Ontario expressed their concerns and frustrations. Some articles mentioned that Ontario’s Premier appealed directly to US President Joe Biden for help securing more COVID-19 vaccines in his press conference. (Canadian PressFootnote 64, City NewsFootnote 65)
In early February, some outlets reported that several premiers across the country floated the possibility of side-stepping Ottawa and signing their deals with suppliers because of all the federal vaccine program delays. The Globe and MailFootnote 66 reported that Manitoba was the first province to pursue its vaccine contract outside of the federal government’s efforts. The contract is with Canadian company Providence Therapeutics for their vaccine candidate, currently undergoing human trials. The Journal de MontréalFootnote 67 also mentioned that Premier Brian Pallister accused the federal government that has agreed with the large commercial companies that they cannot sell vaccines directly to the provinces.
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from the Globe and MailFootnote 68 article:
"Every country wants to have the same products, the same doses, and so we have to negotiate very hard for Canada to have more doses as soon as possible and that's the job for me and my team every day"
Quotes from CBC Footnote 32 article:
"We heard throughout this crisis from various premiers that they were looking to procure their own PPE or vaccines now, as the case may be and we, as a federal government, are in no way inhibiting or blocking them from doing so"
"Suffice it to say that we have procured enough vaccines to inoculate all Canadians, and indeed we have the most number of doses per capita of any country in the world"
Phoenix pay system
Media coverage related to the Phoenix pay system started to be moderate and negative in mid-January when a letter provided to the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) by Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) stating that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) had concluded that the settlement agreement to pay up to $2,500 in general damages were to be taxable. PSAC said that the letter was not a formal tax ruling and will contest it. (National PostFootnote 69, La Presse CanadienneFootnote 70, Radio-CanadaFootnote 71).
On February 3, Radio-CanadaFootnote 72 reported on the retroactive increase following the new signed collective agreements. The article reported that although employees are satisfied with the amounts paid to them, they want clarification on the amounts since it was included with their regular pay.
On February 5, the Windsor StarFootnote 73 reported negatively on the fact that, according to a government document, executives managing the Phoenix pay system continued to receive nearly $2 million in performance pay and bonuses over the past 5 years. Chris Aylward, national president of PSAC said that "Government executives working on the Phoenix pay system shouldn't be receiving any kind of bonus while federal public service workers continue to be paid incorrectly."
On March 3, iPoliticsFootnote 74 reported that even after the union asked the government to wait 4 more weeks before issuing the payments, the Treasury Board refused and sent out the compensation. “Compensation received on Wednesday was also added to regular paycheques, making it difficult, through the Phoenix system, for recipients to know exactly how much in damages they received and how much was taxed”.
Alex Silas, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Regional Executive Vice-President, National Capital Region
Quote from Radio-Canada Footnote 54 article:
"It should not have been included in the normal salary. It should have been a separate payment.”
Chris Aylward, Public Service Alliance of Canada, National President
Quotes from the iPolitics Footnote 65 article:
“Civil servants are losing out on hundreds of dollars they are entitled to”
“Our members are not happy”
“Treasury Board didn’t comply with our request to delay the payment, so now we’ve got a bloody big mess”
National Shipbuilding Strategy
A few outlets (Journal de QuébecFootnote 75, Le SoleilFootnote 76, Journal de MontréalFootnote 77) reported on the federal government allegedly investing roughly $3 billion to expand the existing docking space at the Esquimalt Graving Dock in British Columbia. Conservative MPs Steven Blaney (Bellechasse-Les-Etchemins-Lévis) and Jacques Gourde (Lévis-Lotbinière) are calling this an injustice to Davie Shipyard. They allege that the improvements to the Esquimalt Graving Dock shipyard are to benefit Seaspan Shipyard located on the West Coast while paid with taxpayer money. The articles noted that it has yet to be decided if Davie Shipyard or Seaspan Shipyard will obtain the contract for the John G. Dienfenbaker icebreaker.
The Miramichi LeaderFootnote 78 and CBCFootnote 79 reported on a major “milestone” at the Irving Shipyard in Halifax. On January 22, the large centre section of the Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Max Bernays, its third Arctic patrol vessel, was rolled out of the waterfront assembly plant. It is reported “as a proud moment” for the shipyard following many COVID-19 related delays.
Ottawa CitizenFootnote 80 reported that due to ongoing delays in the delivery of the joint support ships, the Canadian Navy is currently leasing a supply ship, Multi-purpose vessel (MV) Asterix from Federal Fleet Services (associated with Chantier Davie). The lease, originally set for 5 years is expected to increase by $71 million due to the frequent usage. The cost of the lease has now increased to $691 million. The article quotes a Department of National Defence (DND) spokesperson noting that no decision has been made with regard to extending the lease.
On February 3, Times-ColonistFootnote 81 reported that the DND revealed that the first 15 new warships being built to replace the Navy’s 12 frigates and 3 already-retired destroyers will be delivered in 2030 or 2031, years later than planned though defence officials have maintained the $60 million budget which was set in 2017 remains sufficient.
The Canadian PressFootnote 82 reported that an offshore oceanographic science vessel (OOSV) which was originally set to cost $108 million is now expected to cost nearly $1 billion. The article reports in a negative tone and notes that PSPC quietly posted the new cost online on the same day it officially awarded Seaspan Shipyards the contract to build this ship. National PostFootnote 83 reported on the same subject and adds that Canadian surface combatant (CSC) project has also seen significant increases in cost, climbing from $14 billion to $70 billion.
Several articles reported in a negative tone following the report released by the parliamentary budget officer (PBO) on the cost of the CSC. The articles note that the cost of the proposed fleet of warships has jumped to an estimated $77 billion, increasing by $7.3 billion in less than 2 years. The articles also indicate that the price of the CSC could climb even higher if the “frequently-delayed” program faces any more setbacks (Hill TimesFootnote 84, MacleansFootnote 85, CBCFootnote 86, Radio-CanadaFootnote 87, CTV NewsFootnote 88, Cape Breton PostFootnote 89).
An article by the National PostFootnote 90 stated “The Liberal government in 2017 set the project's budget at $60 billion, a number that defence officials reiterated in an interview with The Canadian Press last month.”
Numerous articles reported in a negative tone following the Auditor General’s report on the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). The articles note that several departments, one of which being PSPC, “did not manage the process in a manner that supported timely renewal of the federal vessel fleet.” The articles express concern in regards to delays that could result in several vessels being retired before new ones are operational (Marine LogFootnote 91, Radio-CanadaFootnote 92, National PostFootnote 93).
Global NewsFootnote 94 highlighted Minister Anand’s response to the report stating that ship building is a complex issue and that the experience gained in completed projects gives the government sound data to move ahead, while accepting the Auditor General’s recommendations.
Cape Breton PostFootnote 95 reported that the DND is refusing to make changes to the $77 billion CSC project and that it has instead launched a social media campaign to highlight the proposed new ship, the type 26 from the consortium of Lockhead Martin and BAE. The article noted that DND also used government resources and funding to promote private firms associated with Lockhead Martin on the CSC project. DND spokesperson, Dan Le Bouthillier said that the social media effort to promote certain companies is done to provide factual information. Alan Williams, a former top federal procurement official argued that what the department is doing is unethical.
Ottawa CitizenFootnote 96 reported once again on the PBO report outlining the rising costs of the CSC project, this time emphasizing that the PBO acknowledges he’s at a loss on why the cost keeps increasing.
Steven Blaney, Conservative Member of Parliament
Citation de l’article du Journal de Québec Footnote 75 :
"It is inconceivable that taxpayers would fund a private company when Davie Shipyard already has the necessary production capacity," says Steven Blaney
Dan Le Bouthillier, Department of National Defence spokesperson
Quote from the Cape Breton Post Footnote 86 article:
“The social media effort is done to provide factual, impartial and objective public information"
Alan Williams, former Assistant Deputy Minister of Materiel, Department of National Defence
Quotes from the Cape Breton Post Footnote 86 article:
"It is not the military's role to sell the public or members of Parliament on the Canadian Surface Combatant project"
"There is no contract yet, but they are engaged in actively promoting a specific product of a specific company. That should never be done"
Yves Giroux, Parliamentary Budget Officer
Quotes from the Ottawa Citizen Footnote 96 article:
"There doesn't seem to be a clear rationale when it comes to explaining these cost increases”
Future Fighter Capability Project
Information from December 2020
Media coverage has been relatively low and mostly negative in regards to the defence industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ottawa CitizenFootnote 97 reported that after spending more than 2 billion with American companies, the Liberal government wants to give a major boost to Canadian defence firms by moving ahead on projects that can purchase defence equipment for the military. The December 3 article noted that the 4 major military procurement purchases over the last several months have been with US based companies. DND spokesperson Dan Le Bouthillier confirmed options are being examined to help minimize the impact of COVID-19 on the defence industry.
CBCFootnote 98 reported that only 3 of the 7 used F-18 fighter jets purchased from Australia have been integrated into the air force so far. The article noted that this slow introduction as well as the lack of precise timeline has the opposition Conservatives questioning the value of the interim fleet, which is meant to boost Canada’s existing fleet of CF-18s.
Dan Le Bouthillier, spokesperson, Department of National Defence
Quotes from the Ottawa Citizen Footnote 97 article:
"We are looking at ongoing procurement projects to determine what we may be able to prioritize in order to ensure our defence industry partners are supported"
"This is ongoing at this time, though no decisions have been made at this point"
Parliamentary precinct and the Long Term Vision and Plan
Information from December 2020
Media coverage has been moderate, mostly factual and positive regarding the media tours held on the 2, 14 and 15 of December and the major restoration work taking place at Centre Block. Rob Wright, Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) at PSPC, told reporters that no changes would be made to the remaining bullet holes from the 2014 gunfight. That being said, National PostFootnote 99 reported that Parliamentarians had been divided on the preservation of bullet holes in the aftermath of the attack, and some of them have already been repaired as items in the building were replaced when necessary. There had also been debate as to whether the bullet holes, as well as the shooting in general, should be mentioned during guided tours of the building. The Library of Parliament, responsible for the tours, ultimately decided not to include it as it is not related with the working of Parliament.
CBCFootnote 100 reported that the renovations were cited to take 10 years from start to finish but many observers predict that it will take longer, given its complexity and historical value. ADM Wright pushed back against that timeline, saying that they never said it would be a 10-year project.
CTV NewsFootnote 101 reported that “officials said that right now the work is ahead of schedule. However, the final budget and timeline isn’t expected to be completed until the first quarter of 2021.” The article also reported that the next big challenge will be the masonry restoration on the Centre Block’s outer walls, which is projected to take between 5 and 6 years to complete. The Hill timesFootnote 102 reported and later issued a correction mentioning that 40% of the demolition and abatement work has been completed. It also clarified that 655 million was initially allocated for the Centre Block renovation, but 119.6 million has been spent to date. On December 15, ADM Wright said PSPC is projecting demolition and abatement will be completed by the end of 2021 or early 2022, with both that work and excavations expected to be 2-year processes in all. That being said, PSPC has not yet committed publicly to a schedule and a budget for the project, but ADM Wright said the department is getting close.
Ottawa CitizenFootnote 103 reported that excavators were caught off-guard when peeling back the first layers to find that it had been built atop a rubble foundation. ADM Wright mentioned that it was completely unknown and that is one of the challenges with Centre Block because it did not come with plans. Another major challenge is balancing the restoration and conservation with the modernization of the building.
In early February, the jury was named for the Block 2 international design competition in Ottawa, which the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Steven McKinnon is one of the parliamentary jurors. Le DroitFootnote 104 reported that both buildings located at 100 Wellington and 119 Sparks street are 2 significant heritage properties that divide the site from “Block 2” and represent a major design challenge for the redevelopment project.
Rob Wright, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from the CBC Footnote 100 article:
"We've never articulated that it's a 10-year project"
"The media have indicated that it's a 10-year project"
"I think in the end, we should be in a good position in the first quarter of 2021 to really establish a baseline budget and schedule"
Interpreters’ health and safety concerns
A few articles were published in January regarding concerns raised by interpreters covering parliamentary debates. Articles mentioned in a neutral tone that interpreters have experienced acoustic incidents that forced them to go on leave for recovery. According to the Canadian chapter of the International Association of Conference Interpreters, a recent survey found that 70% of its members suffered acoustic injuries since the start of the pandemic due to the use of virtual platforms such as Zoom. In addition, the association states that Canada's official languages can’t be properly translated due to technical problems arising from the use of digital platforms during the pandemic. Coverage notes that the Translation Bureau has adopted measures aimed at reducing the risk of hearing injuries to its interpreters. (Le DroitFootnote 105, Times-ColonistFootnote 106, Radio CanadaFootnote 107)
On January 25, the Hill TimesFootnote 108 reported that consultations are underway for a new contract for federal freelance interpreters. The article noted that the Canadian chapter of International Association of Conference Interpreters is “sounding the alarm” that conditions being considered could put interpreters at more risk. PSPC stated that it would not be appropriate to comment on the details of the contract as discussions are still ongoing.
On March 10, the Hill TimesFootnote 109 continued to report on interpretation issues. Nicole Gagnon, a freelance interpreter on the Hill and Canadian advocacy lead for the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), said that "It needs to be understood that the sound that an interpreter requires is different from someone who's just logging onto a Zoom platform" and that Zoom isn't "recognized as an interpretation platform by the international experts who set International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards." Conservative MP Steven Blaney said that "The pandemic is really an eye-opener of the critical role of translators and maybe how they should be fully considered and integrated into the parliamentary service structure".
Nicole Gagnon, Advocacy Lead, Canadian chapter of International Association of Conference Interpreters
Quote from the Hill Times Footnote 108 article:
"The answer is not to ask those scarce resources still available to you to come to work, and expect them to work even more when they're already sustaining injuries ... working [fewer] hours"
International Association of Conference Interpreters, January 2021 report
Quote from the Hill Times Footnote 109 article:
"The bilingual character of Canada is being set aside as discourse in Parliament is forced into one language, usually English, because sound quality and other technical problems prevent interpreters from being able to do their jobs"
Stéfanie Hamel, spokesperson, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from the Hill Times Footnote 108 article:
“PSPC is modifying the open contract for interpretation due to increased demand for remote interpretation and in consideration for the difficult nature of interpretation work during the pandemic"
"Even before the start of the pandemic, the Translation Bureau had begun to take measures to protect interpreters at meetings involving remote participants, such as providing them with external sound limiters. These measures have been strengthened since virtual sessions became the norm"
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