General items: Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—June 2, 2021
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Thank you. I am pleased to appear before you to discuss our requests for funding in the Main Estimates for 2021 to 2022, as well as the Departmental Plan 2021 to 2022 for Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC).
With me today are Deputy Minister Bill Matthews, Associate Deputy Minister Michael Vandergrift, and Chief Financial Officer Wojo Zielonka.
As a department that acts as a central service provider to other government departments, PSPC is responsible for a multi-faceted and broad mandate.
Mr. Chair, as you know, PSPC continues to play a pivotal role in fighting the pandemic. Our goal right now is to get as many COVID-19 vaccine doses into the country as soon as possible.
Thanks to a diverse portfolio of vaccines that we began building as soon as vaccine candidates showed promise, we are making progress.
As of today, more than 27 million doses of Health Canada-authorized vaccines have arrived in Canada.
The provinces and territories have administered more than 24 million doses. More than 60% of all Canadian adults have received at least one dose. In fact, as of today, Canada leads the G20 in terms of percentage of the population with at least one dose of vaccine. And I continue to push our suppliers for more vaccine doses to be delivered earlier than scheduled.
Members may also be aware that we are already planning for the future, having established a contract with Pfizer for doses in 2022 and 2023, with options to extend into 2024. The agreement provides us with 65 million doses with access to up to 120 million more.
It has been a true Team Canada effort, which will continue until we are all past the pandemic.
At the same time, as outlined in this fiscal year’s Departmental Plan, PSPC will continue to deliver on other government commitments—including those related to promoting diversity and inclusion, fighting climate change, and fostering economic recovery.
One of our top priorities remains delivering on the National Shipbuilding Strategy. We are making important progress, but shipbuilding is complex, and we need to continuously improve.
We continue to deliver ships for the Coast Guard and Navy. We are also growing the shipbuilding industry in Canada, contributing $1.4 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product and approximately 12,800 jobs every year.
We will continue to work with National Defence, the Canadian Coast Guard and industry to renew Canada’s federal fleet of combat and non-combat vessels.
As outlined in our plan, we are taking new approaches to federal procurement.
We plan to grow participation from businesses led by Indigenous Peoples, Black and racialized Canadians, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ2) Canadians and other underrepresented groups—building on successful pilots and enhanced outreach efforts to these business communities.
Our modernization efforts also include moving forward with a new and innovative cloud-based electronic procurement solution.
The solution called CanadaBuys allows businesses—big and small—to bid more easily on tender opportunities and manage contracts and orders for goods and services from the government.
I can tell you that we have already been using CanadaBuys for procurements related to COVID-19, such as gowns and cloth masks.
Mr. Chair, these are only a few of our priorities for 2021 to 2022.
To achieve these bold undertakings and support the government’s work, PSPC is requesting over $4.4 billion in the 2021 to 2022 Main Estimates.
This represents a net increase of $443 million over last year’s Main Estimates.
Of that amount, $285 million is for real property repairs and maintenance, which will help us protect asset integrity; continue advancements in sustainability, carbon neutrality, and accessibility; and to protect the health and safety of public servants during and after the pandemic.
This increase also includes a little more than $200 million to continue to address the backlog of pay issues for public servants and stabilize the pay system. We have made tremendous progress in reducing the backlog, and we will continue to work diligently to eliminate any outstanding pay issues.
Mr. Chair, this has been an unprecedented time in Canada’s history, but we can now see a way out of this pandemic.
As we continue to support Canada’s response to COVID-19, my department will keep working to provide the other essential services that Canadians expect from us.
I look forward to working with my fellow parliamentarians and our dedicated public servants to move these plans forward.
Coverage from March 1, 2021 to May 28, 2021
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.
Media coverage from March until May was high, with Government of Canada (GC) / Public Services and Procurement Canada COVID-19 related articles dominating the headlines in Canada. For the most part, the articles published were factual and neutral in tone with numerous articles quoting Minister Anand. The articles also included information from GC press conferences. Press conferences with the Prime Minister, select ministers, and public health doctors continued to be held bi-weekly throughout this period. Technical briefings with government officials were also held weekly.
Vaccine procurement and distribution
In early March, 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 Post and Ottawa Citizen 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. (National Post, March 5, 2021; Ottawa Citizen, March 5, 2021).
The week of March 8, multiple outlets reported on Minister Anand stating that Canada expects to receive 36.5 million doses by the end of June. The National Post also reported that 445,000 doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and the remaining 465,000 doses from Moderna are set to arrive in Canada. (National Post, March 8, 2021; Miramichi Leader, Adam Huras, Tom Bateman, March 8, 2021; Ottawa Sun, Elizabeth Payne, March 8, 2021; National Post, March 8, 2021).
The New Westminster Record also reported on the federal government awaiting more details from Johnson & Johnson regarding doses due to being delivered to Canada after regulating the vaccine on Friday. The article noted 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 (New Westminster Record, Tyler Orton, March 8, 2021).
In mid-March, several outlets reported on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of a new Pfizer accelerated delivery schedule, with 1 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 highlighted that Canada is on track to receive 36.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by July (New Westminster Record, Tyler Orton, March 8, 2021; CBC, John Paul Tasker, March 10, 2021).
In the end of March, the Globe and Mail and Ottawa Sun wrote that Pfizer will be sending 5 million vaccines earlier than expected this spring, and the first delivery of Johnson & Johnson is due to arrive at the end of April (Globe and Mail, Marieke Walsh, Laura Stone, March 31, 2021; Ottawa Sun, March 31, 2021).
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from The Globe and Mail, Marieke Walsh, Laura Stone, March 31, 2021 article:
"very well on the way to having more than enough to ensure that every Canadian who wishes to be vaccinated can be fully vaccinated by the end of the summer"
Quote from the City News, Cormac Mac Sweeney, March 31, 2021 article:
"Our deliveries of J&J will be beginning at the end of April"
On April 1, Reuters reported that Pfizer is accelerating vaccine deliveries to Canada, and J&J doses are expected this month as well. PM Trudeau is quoted as saying that “this would place us in a very good situation to say that by the end of the summer, everyone would have received 2 doses” (Reuters, Steve Scherer, April 1, 2021).
Multiple outlets also reported on the 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines being loaned from the US and which were received in late March. CTV wrote that deliveries to the provinces were already underway as of April 1 (CTV, Sarah Turnbull, April 1, 2021).
La Presse reported that employees at Emergent BioSolutions, a plant making the J&J vaccine, confused ingredients and manufactured 15 million vaccines in a batch that did not meet the quality standards. J&J replied to reporters that the plant is not yet authorised to manufacture vaccines. “According to the New York Times, this does not affect the doses of this vaccine that are currently being delivered to the United States, as they come from the Netherlands. However, future deliveries were expected to come from this plant in Baltimore. The Times added that production authorization had therefore been delayed” (La Presse, April 1, 2021).
On April 6, Business Insider reported that 62 million doses of J&J’s vaccine need to be checked for contamination. The vaccines are from the same Baltimore factory that already ruined 15 million doses (Business Insider, Kelly McLaughlin, April 6, 2021).
The Canadian Press reported on April 16 that Canada is negotiating contracts for booster shots in 2022. The article states that while the goal and current timeline enables all adults to be fully vaccinated by end of September, “many experts believe additional booster shots are going to be necessary, either to remind the immune system what it needs to do, or protect against some new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19” (Canadian Press, April 14, 2021).
On April 19, CBC reported that Minister Anand stated in an interview with Rosemary Barton that Moderna has not breached its contract, despite the delay of 1.2 million doses this month (CBC, Raisa Patel, April 19, 2021).
On April 22, the World Socialist website reported that a “botched vaccine rollout” is a key contributor to the third wave. The article mentions Minister Anand as saying that a surge in vaccine supplies would help boost vaccination rates, however that announcement “suffered a blow” when Moderna cut its delivery in half for April (World Socialist website, Omar Ali, April 22, 2021).
The National Post and La Presse reported on April 23 that India is delaying an expected shipment of 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines that was supposed to arrive in Canada by the end of the month. The articles note that India is in the midst of a rapidly accelerating third wave and had more than 300,000 new cases on Wednesday. The articles also mention that shipments are delayed, but the company still says it expects to fulfill its order eventually (National Post, April 23, 2021; La Presse, Mélanie Marquis, April 23, 2021).
On April 27, iPolitics reported that the price paid for AstraZeneca vaccines was retroactively redacted from an email posted to the House of Commons website, stating that government officials requested the redaction citing “confidential business information.” The email was from a Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) staffer stating the government had paid $8.18 per dose for 20 million doses. The article notes that Minister Anand has repeatedly stated that confidentiality clauses prevent her from revealing pricing details (iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, April 26, 2021).
On April 28, Johnson & Johnson delivered their first shipment of vaccines to Canada and were met at the airport by Minister Anand. However, the batch was shown to have been received from Emergent Biosolutions and so as of May 3 were reported to be being held while the quality is confirmed.
The article also reports that AstraZeneca has slowed shipments due to India’s having shut down exports, but Minister Anand is noted as saying that the deliveries are expected to ramp back up in June (Toronto Star, Alex Ballingal, April 30, 2021).
CBC reported that Moderna is slated to send 1 million more doses to Canada in the week of May 10, and delivered 650,000 doses April 29, half what was initially expected. “Major General Dany Fortin signalled the period of uneven deliveries is coming to an end as Pfizer and Moderna, Canada's 2 largest suppliers, find their footing.” The article reports that Canada is expecting 24.2 million doses from Pfizer in the second quarter of this year (CBC, John Paul Tasker, April 30, 2021).
Some outlets reported that BioNTech will start supplying Canada with COVID-19 vaccine made in its US plant. Minister Anand was quoted saying that "I can confirm that as of May 3, the Canadian supply of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will come from its manufacturing site in Kalamazoo." (National Post, April 30, 2021; CTV News, April 30, 2021)
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from the Oakville News, April 29, 2021 article:
“In the past months, we have had to acquire 2.7 billion items, including PPE and 43.5 million rapid test kits, for the provinces. And, of course, vaccines. We will have brought in between 48 and 50 million doses by the end of June, enough for every Canadian to be vaccinated at least once and many to have their second dose”
The National Post reports that Canada is set to receive more than 2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on a weekly basis starting on May 3. Following the April 30 announcement, Minister Anand is quoted in the article stating that Ottawa was "being very aggressive, especially with the supplier." The article also notes that there was no new development regarding whether the US will send more doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (National Post, May 3, 2021).
On May 4, the Canadian Press reported that Pfizer will be sending 2 million doses this week and each following week as they ramp up their deliveries and begin shipping from the US. The article notes that the deliveries will increase further in June (Canadian Press, May 4, 2021).
On May 7, CBC reported that more than 650,000 AstraZeneca doses through COVAX are due to arrive in the coming weeks, with over a million total between now and the end of June. The Miramichi Leader mentions Minister Anand as confirming the 650,000 doses, noting though there is no firm timeline (CBC, John Paul Tasker, May 7, 2021).
On May 11, CBC reported that Canadian officials are monitoring the growing science behind “mixing and matching” vaccines, which is starting to show that mixing doses may provide additional protection. Dr. Helen Fletcher, a professor of immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom (UK), said that a "mismatched" vaccine program would deliver some practical benefits. The article mentioned that “vaccine delivery logistics would be greatly simplified—but there could be another good reason to pursue a mixed-dose regimen” (CBC, John Paul Tasker, May 11, 2021).
On May 12, iPolitics wrote that the Standing Committee on health’s (HESA) request to see vaccine contracts has “gone unanswered” after 3 months, and quotes an unnamed PSPC spokesperson as saying "The government is working to respond to the committee's request as quickly as possible". The article notes that “The motion asking for the contracts was non-binding, meaning that, theoretically, the government could delay sending them until Parliament dissolves, killing the request. However, the committee could also strengthen its demand by setting a deadline or changing the request to an order. Doing so would require all opposition members on the committee to vote collectively for another motion, as they did on February 19 for the original one.” (iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, May 12, 2021).
On May 17, CBC and the National Post reported on the influx of vaccines Canada is expecting this week. CBC reported that Minister Anand has said that 4.5 million doses are due to arrive before the upcoming long weekend. The articles report that 3.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 1.1 million doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected (CBC, May 17, 2021; National Post, May 17, 2021).
The Hill Times and Global News reported that Canada’s extra doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be donated amid the questions surrounding the vaccine and a rare form of blood clot associated with it. The Global News article stated Minister Anand has said that conversations are taking place regarding the millions of doses Canada is set to receive and noted that after administering approximately 2.3 million doses of the vaccine, 17 million doses are expected in the coming months (The Hill Times, Samantha Wright Allen, May 17, 2021; Global News, Amanda Connolly, May 16, 2021).
On May 20 and 21, CBC, Radio-Canada and the Ottawa Citizen reported that June vaccine deliveries could be less than anticipated, according to replacement head of the vaccine rollout, Brigadier General Krista Brodie. Joelle Paquette of PSPC is quoted as saying "We're still working with Moderna on determining their delivery over the month of June." The articles mention Minister Anand as resisting the temptation to celebrate, saying there is much further to go, but that it feels “surreal” that so many have had their shots. (CBC, John Paul Tasker, May 20, 2021; Radio-Canada; Ottawa Citizen, Ryan Tumilty, May 21, 2021)
On May 25, the National Post reported that the federal government “shows no interest” in Canadian-made vaccine from Providence Therapeutics, but awarded $200 million to a company with “no experience in messenger-RNA to build an mRNA facility in Ontario" which will produce vaccines by 2024. An Innovation, Science and Industry spokesperson was quoted as saying the government is in fact supporting the company, with $10 million in funding and ongoing discussions. (National Post, Tom Blackwell, May 25, 2021)
The Victoria Times-Colonist reported on May 27 that thousands of AstraZeneca doses are set to expire by the end of May and that the federal government is asking provinces to urgently use them, or give what they can’t use to other provinces. Ontario announced that it would begin giving second doses to those who received their first in early March, but that appointments are difficult to come by as many pharmacies do not have any supply of the vaccine. “It's not clear how many doses are at risk of going to waste, but Ontario is scrambling to use some 45,000 AstraZeneca shots by the end of May, with another 10,000 set to expire in June, while Manitoba has said it has 7,000 doses that will expire in a few days.” (Victoria Times-Colonist, May 27, 2021)
Multiple outlets reported on May 27 and 28 that Minister Anand announced that Moderna will be delivering 2 million doses in the first 3 weeks of June, with “millions more” at the end of June, though no date was divulged. The Globe and Mail wrote that Moderna will need to more than double that number by end of June if they wish to meet their delivery targets. (Globe and Mail, Marieke Walsh, May 28, 2021)
La Presse Canadienne reported that there is no response to questions regarding the 300,000 Johnson & Johnson doses that have been waiting in freezers since the April 30 announcement that they would be held for testing. (Presse Canadienne, May 28, 2021)
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from the National Post, May 3, 2021 article:
“[Ottawa is] being very aggressive, especially with the supplier"
Quote from National Post, May 12, 2021 article:
“I am encouraged that the conversation is shifting to consider what Canada will do with any expected excess vaccines 5 months from now. However, I continue to be focused on accelerating the delivery of as many vaccines as possible for Canadians now. This is my priority"
Quote from Global News, Amanda Connolly, May 16, 2021 article:
“Our prime minister has mentioned this, I have, and [International Development Minister Karina] Gould and [Health Minister Patty] Hajdu are all on the same page in terms of the need to donate excess doses that Canadians aren’t using, so we are thinking of all of the options relating to any excess doses”
CTV News and BNN Bloomberg reported that Spartan Bioscience, the Ottawa-based biotech company filed for creditor protection on April 5, 2021 following concerns related to the efficacy of its rapid COVID-19 tests. The company is also temporarily laying off 60 to 90 of its employees, as well as laying off students and interns. CTV News reported Spartan interim Chief Executive Officer, Jennifer Ross-Carriere said that due to “performance-related” issues and a lack of resources, the company is “in a position where we have a strain on our cash”. BNN Bloomberg reported that this is not the first setback for the company. The company received Health Canada approval in April 2020 and several weeks later, pulled its test due to issues with the swab. The company resubmitted its test in December and received its second Health Canada approval in January 2021. On April 13, the Journal de Québec reported that as a result of Spartan Bioscience filing for creditor protection, the province of Quebec could lose approximately 8.75M in the restructuring of the company’s debt. In a contract valued at 16 million dollars, the article noted that the province ordered 200,000 testing kits as well as 100 analyzing devices from Spartan. (CTV News, Jackie Dunham, April 6, 2021; BNN Bloomberg, April 6, 2021; Journal de Québec, Jean-Michel Genois Gagnon, April 13, 2021)
Global News reported on April 18 that due to increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the Toronto region, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the federal government is “mobilizing federal health care workers from across government departments to deploy to the front lines in Ontario” and noted that the Greater Toronto Area is where the “situation is most critical”. The article also notes that the rapid tests would be directed to hot spots in Ontario. (Global News, Hannah Jackson, April 18, 2021)
National Post and CBC both reported that of the 41,852,454 rapid tests purchased by the federal government, and distributed to the provinces and territories, only 1,731,673 tests have been used, translating to only 4.2%. Leila El Shennawy (Globe and Mail) also reported on unused tests reserved for federal use, stating that of the 800,000 obtained, only 8% have been used. In an article by Brian Platt (National Post, April 12, 2021) he suggests that due to “slow-moving bureaucracy”, the roll out of rapid testing was so slow. Rapid tests were initially approved by Health Canada in October 2020 and by December 2020 Canada had 2 tests available, the Abbott Panbio and the BD Veritor. However, at the time, the tests could only be performed by a healthcare professional, adding additional strain to healthcare resources. The article notes that it wasn’t until March 19, 2021, that in Ontario, the tests could be done by a trained layperson in lieu of a healthcare professional. The article also states that concerns related to the efficacy of these tests were also a reason why provinces and territories were skeptical about using the rapid tests. (National Post, Ryan Tumilty, April 29, 2021; Peter Zimonjic, CBC, April 27, 2021; The Globe and Mail, Leila El Shennawy, May 13, 2021; National Post, Brian Platt, April 12, 2021)
It was also reported in the National Post article that while the price of the rapid tests have not been fully disclosed, an access to information request shows that the government purchased 23 million units of the Abbott Panbio COVID-19 antigen test at a cost of $173 million. (National Post, Brian Platt, April 29, 2021)
The Hill Times wrote multiple articles on the April 29 launch of the rapid testing program for Centre Block construction. As previously reported by Marco Vigliotti (Ottawa Citizen), the decision to implement the rapid testing program came after an entire work unit was sent home following a positive COVID-19 test. The Hill Times quoted Conservative member of Parliament (MP) Bruce Stanton, the chair of the working group for Centre Block rehabilitation project as saying he has “every confidence” in PSPC and welcomed the rapid testing program. (The Hill Times, Samantha Wright Allen, May 11, 2021 and May 3, 2021; Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2021)
On May 13 the Fredericton Daily Gleaner and Radio-Canada both reported on rapid tests becoming more readily obtainable by companies and the general public. The Fredericton Daily Gleaner reported that the Prime Minister announced an online portal where organizations can apply for free rapid tests to be used in workplaces. It was reported by Radio-Canada that on April 23 Health Canada approved the check it COVID-19 test from American company, Lucira Health. The home-based test will retail for $75, with results in 30 minutes. The article notes that the company is currently finalizing the translation of the kit into French to comply with language standards and is expected on shelves as early as June. (Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Adam Huras, May 13, 2021; Radio-Canada, Fannie Bussières Mcnicoll, May 13, 2021)
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from CBC, Peter Zimonjic, April 27, 2021 article:
"It is so very important for us to be prepared across the board, across the various categories of personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies so that we can stand ready via the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the provinces and territories in terms of whatever requests they are putting forward, including on rapid tests"
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Quote from Global News, Hannah Jackson, April 19, 2021 article:
“We’re working with municipalities to direct rapid tests to hot spots in Ontario, especially for essential workers and workplaces,” he said. “This will make sure the tests we deliver get used in the places they’re needed most”
Quote from National Post, Ryan Tumilty, April 29, 2021 article:
"Our job as a federal government is to be there with supports that are needed and we've continued to do that. We respect provincial jurisdiction, provincial decision-making, but every step of the way, we will work to fulfil the promises we have made to Canadians"
Personal protective equipment procurement
In early April, the Global News reported on 700,000 N95 respirator masks being shipped. The first made-in-Canada mask shipment came in only 8 months after the federal and provincial government reached a 5-year deal with 3M plant in Brockville, Ontario, to provide 55 million respirators annually to meet PPE demands for front-line workers. The Gananoque Reporter, also noted Brockville site's expansion had added 30 full-time jobs to the local economy. (The Global News, Alexandra Mazur, April 7, 2021; The Gananoque Reporter, Ronald Zajac, April 7, 2021)
Ulysse Bergeron and Boris Proulx from Le Devoir wrote that several small Quebec companies wanted to participate in the collective effort to produce personal protective equipment to counter the pandemic. However, these same companies found themselves in a difficult position financially following drastic reductions in PPE orders. The article noted that the number of orders for disposable gowns has fallen by 30 million, from 50 million to 20 million. The article also mentioned that these reductions are due to a change in priorities.(Le Devoir, Ulysse Bergeron, Boris Proulx, April 16, 2021)
Following statements that India is in the midst of a rapidly accelerating third wave, Le Journal de Montréal reported in mid-April on Canada's turn to offer its support to the Indian government. The article quoted Minister Anand stating that Canada will provide support by sending PPE. The article also mentioned that the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union are also offering help. (Le Journal de Montréal, April 16, 2021)
In early May, coverage regarding PPE procurement was higher than usual. Many outlets reported factually on the Government of Canada who is taking legal actions against a Montreal company to recover $81 million. The federal paid upfront for millions of protective masks that failed to meet Canada's standards. The article specified that the government is suing Tango Communication Marketing and its representative Michel Octeau over nearly 40 million faulty masks ordered early in the pandemic. According to the lawsuit, Tango told government officials it could secure masks that meet the Chinese standards known as KN95 masks, but 80 percent didn't meet that standard when the masks arrived from China. The articles noted that the government cancelled the contracts and demanded repayment of more than $80 million. Members of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates unanimously adopted a motion inviting the company and the federal officials involved in this order to explain themselves publicly. Minister Anand is quoted in the articles stating that she intends to recover taxpayer's money. (London Free Press, Ryan Tumilty, May 8, 2021; La Presse, Joël-denis Bellavance, May 5, 2021; La Presse, Vincent Larouche, May 10, 2021; La Presse, Vincent Larouche, May 7, 2021; La Presse, Vincent Larouche, May 4, 2021)
On May 26, many outlets reported on PPE procurement following the 2 reports released by Auditor General Karen Horgan, who, among other findings, found that Canada's emergency stockpile of PPE at the start of the pandemic was inadequate to meet the needs of provinces and territories. The Hill Times mentioned that despite 2010 and 2013 internal audits by Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) that made recommendations to improve the stockpile and the systems to track items, improvements had not been made. The article noted that the Auditor General's report stated that PSPC took a "reasonable risk" in acquiring emergency PPE and medical devices for the pandemic. (Hill Times, Palak Mangat, May 26, 2021)
The Globe and Mail summarized that as of December 31, 2020, the federal government had spent $7.3-billion buying PPE. As of April 26, 2021, the government website shows that PPE is still being delivered. The article mentioned that in the first wave of the pandemic, front-line health care workers were forced to ration and reuse PPE because of severe shortages across the country. The supply shortages were largely resolved over summer 2020. (Globe and Mail, Marieke Walsh and Kristy Kirkup, May 26, 2021)
Radio-Canada highlighted that PSPC mobilized resources to quickly acquire large quantities of equipment in a market where demand often exceeded supply. The article mentioned that the Auditor General's report stated that Health Canada and PSPC have helped meet the needs of PPE of provincial and territories. (Radio-Canada, May 26, 2021)
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from The Gananoque Reporter, Ronald Zajac, April 7, 2021 article:
"We know that you’ve already delivered more than a million made-in-Canada N95 respirators and millions more are to come" said the minister, adding this is the second supplier to deliver N95 masks domestically
"It marks an important milestone in our domestic capabilities to respond to this pandemic"
Quote from Le Journal de Montréal, April 16, 2021 article:
“We are in contact with India and Indian High Commissioner Nadir Patel regarding a number of options that could allow us to assist. We will stand by to provide personal protective equipment, ventilators and any items that might be useful”
Quote from La Presse, Joël-denis Bellavance, May 5, 2021 article:
“We are pursuing legal remedies. We will not pay for defective masks”
Vincent Chabot, Owner of Confection Katvin
Quotes from Le Devoir, Ulysse Bergeron et Boris Proulx, April 16, 2021 article:
It’s a drag for the people that I wasn’t able to re-hire. I could not reassign them to products other than our medical products
“It’s too bad, because we got to work and mobilized employees,” explained the contractor, who was reached by telephone by Le Devoir. “I know that many other manufacturers, who didn’t specialize in stretchy or thin clothing, had to make significant investments” [Translation]
Pierre Paul-Hus, Conservative Party, procurement critic
Quote from La Presse, Vincent Larouche, May 7, 2021 article:
“We are totally dismayed by the way this contract was managed. Now $80 million of taxpayer money has probably been lost owing to negligent management. We must do everything in our power to ensure this never happens again. Canadians deserve to have transparent and accountable representatives and public institutions”
Jean-François Létourneau, Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson
Quote from La Presse, Vincent Larouche, May 4, 2021 article:
“A significant portion of the roughly 11 million KN95 respirators originally sent to Canada by the supplier did not meet contract requirements. As a result, in early May 2020, Canada took steps to suspend any further shipments of KN95 respirators from the supplier. None of the KN95 respirators that failed the tests was distributed for medical use”
Multiple outlets continue to report on the fact that while other countries such has the US, the 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 Star and the Globe and Mail questioning if Canada has negotiated any assurances in the contracts. CBC reported that when asked if Canada’s vaccine suppliers would face any legal recourse if they don’t meet their contractual obligations, Prime Minster Trudeau did not respond. (Toronto Star, February 6, 2021; Globe and Mail, Robert Fife, Marieke Walsh, February 5, 2021; CBC, John Paul Tasker, February 5, 2021)
The Toronto Star 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.” (Toronto Star, Tonda Maccharles, Alex Ballingall, February 10, 2021)
The Globe and Mail 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. (Globe and Mail, Justin Ling, Marieke Walsh, March 4, 2021)
In an April 6 interview with La Presse, Minister Anand reiterated her position on not disclosing any vaccine contract information such as price per dose and amount spent to-date. The Minister indicated in the article that she was not willing to jeopardize vaccine deliveries to do so. While other countries have released vaccine pricing information, Minister Anand noted that pricing information may be available when the budget is tabled in April. (La Presse, Mélanie Marquis, April 6, 2021)
iPolitics reported on the delays surrounding the release of Canada’s vaccine contracts following the motion passed by the House of Commons’ Health Committee. The articles report that Minister Anand maintains her position that releasing the contracts would be breaching the confidentiality clauses. It was noted in an iPolitics article that Ottawa is still negotiating with the vaccine manufacturers on the details relating to releasing the information. The article also quotes Privy Council Office Deputy Clerk, Christyne Tremblay as saying "These documents belong to the pharmaceutical companies, (and) we are actively working with them (to ensure the contracts are shared with the committee)". Charlie Pinkerton (iPolitics) reported that PSPC spokesperson, Michèle LaRose has said "The government is working to respond to the committee's request as quickly as possible," but he noted in the article that the motion is non-binding and as a result the contracts are not required to be handed over. He goes on to state that once Parliament dissolves, for either an election or from being prorogued, the committee and its outstanding motions would as well.(iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, April 8, 2021, May 10, 2021)
CBC reported on Minister Anand’s interview with Rosemary Barton Live where it was discussed if Moderna had breached its contract with Canada as a result of several delays in receiving its shipment of vaccines. In the April 18 article, Minister Anand stated that the company has not breached its contract and that delivery schedules “are not necessarily set in stone”. (CBC, Raisa Patel, April 18, 2021)
Several outlets (iPolitics, National Post) reported on the price Canada has paid for its vaccine supply. On April 26, iPolitics reported that an email tabled with the Commons Health Committee stated that Canada has paid $8.18 per dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine however in a different iPolitics article it was reported that other countries purchased the vaccine for approximately $3 USD. When asked why the discrepancy in pricing, Minister Anand said “it's because Canada can't produce its own vaccines.” During an appearance before the Commons Health Committee, the National Post reported that Minister Anand revealed that the government has spent approximately $8 billion on vaccines. (iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, April 14, 2021, April 26, 2021; National Post, Ryan Tumilty, April 14,2021)
iPolitics reported on May 21, that according to a PSPC official, Canada will be unable to get out of its contract with AstraZeneca, nor any other vaccine maker whose shots might not be used during Canada’s vaccination program. The AstraZeneca vaccine is no longer being used as a first dose due to risks associated with a rare blood clotting disorder. The article noted that while contract information has not been disclosed due to confidentiality clauses, an email from PMO states that Canada has paid $163.6 million for 20 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine. (iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, May 21, 2021)
The Toronto Star reported that vaccine hesitancy amongst Canadians could be related to a lack of information. The article suggested that keeping the details of vaccine contracts confidential is impacting public confidence and contributing to vaccine hesitancy. Canada was 1 of 2 countries examined in a University of Toronto study who disclosed clinical trial reports. However the study found that it is a part of “an alarming trend of governments censoring key details of their orders from drug companies, or not releasing them at all.” (Toronto Star, Omar Mosleh, May 24, 2021)
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, April 26, 2021 article:
"AstraZeneca has been clear that it had been offering not-for-profit pricing across the board"
"The prices differ across jurisdictions, based on the other considerations that need to be taken into account, including domestic manufacturing capacity"
Quote from CBC, Raisa Patel, April 18, 2021 article:
"We are paying fair market value for these doses, and they are obliging our requests. We exercised options for those 8 million doses, and we had built that flexibility into our contracts"
Concerns expressed by provinces and territories
In March, several outlets reported that Ontario Premier Doug Ford criticized the federal government’s procurement of the COVID-19 vaccines. Premier Ford stated that the province does not have enough vaccines from the federal government and that “it’s a joke.” Ford made the comments after being asked about discrepancies in Ontario’s efforts to distribute vaccines to local public health units on a per capita basis. Following Ford’s statement, the Hill Times reported that Minister Anand responded in an interview on CTV’s Power Play. The Minister noted that she was surprised by Ford’s comments “because they’re not supported by facts” (Global News, Ryan Rocca, March 27, 2021; Canadian Press, March 31, 2021; The Hill Times, Alice Chen, April 7, 2021).
On March 23, CNN reported that the Province of Ontario declared that it was at the beginning of a third wave pointing to evidence of increasing case counts, hospitalizations and the spread of variants. Officials across the country are concerned that the federal government will not distribute the vaccines in time to avoid a significant number of hospitalizations and deaths (CNN, Paula Newton, March 23, 2021).
On May 1, the Hamilton Spectator reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford “scrapped over international border measures” as Trudeau dismissed Ford’s claims that Canada’s “borders are broken”. The article notes that Trudeau said the federal government will “work narrowly” with Ontario on its request to suspend the arrival of international students by helping the province revise the list of institutions that border officials use to allow international students to enter the country smoothly. (Hamilton Spectator, Adina Bresge, May 1, 2021)
The week of May 10, several articles reported that provinces have decided to stop administrating first doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine though the federal government continues to state the vaccine is safe and effective for anyone older than 18. The articles note that Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan have stopped distributing the vaccine because of lack of supply, but that other provinces have stopped due to concerns about the risk of blood clots, according to the provinces’ officials. The articles also note that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has not changed how it recommends AstraZeneca’s product be used, and continues to suggest it only be used by people 30 and older as a precaution against vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) (CTV, Sarah Turnbull, May 11, 2021; iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, May 13, 2021).
On May 27, several outlets reported that the federal government is urging provinces to get AstraZeneca doses into arms in the next few days as thousands of doses are set to expire at the end of May. The articles noted that federal health Minister Patty Hadju wrote a letter to provincial and territorial counterparts encouraging provinces that are not able to use their doses before they expire to instead give them to other provinces that can make use of them. It is noted that the federal government can help with logistics and coordination. (Victoria Times-Colonist, May 27, 2021; La Presse Canadienne, May 27, 2021; La Tribune, May 27, 2021).
There has been ongoing media coverage for the last several weeks on the issue around Switch Health Holdings Inc. PSPC and PHAC have both received numerous media requests on this matter as well. The Government of Canada carefully assesses all proposals received as a result of a request for proposals (RFP). After a competitive procurement process and an evaluation of all proposals, a contract was awarded to Switch Health Holdings Inc. on February 20, 2021, as it was determined that they had the capacity to help Canada with border testing as outlined in the RFP. The Government of Canada is continuously reviewing options to improve the provision of equitable, timely and efficient COVID-19 testing services for all travellers.
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from The Hill Times, April 7, 2021 article:
“I'm actually surprised by those remarks because they're not supported by the facts”
She pointed to the fact that 9.5 million vaccine doses were set to have been delivered to Canada as of the week of March 30, including the Moderna doses Mr. Ford referred to, and said the government has been transparent about delivery schedules. More importantly, she said in Ontario supply currently outpaces the delivery of vaccines
Quote from the iPolitics, Charlie Pinkerton, May 13, 2021 article:
"We will continue to bring AstraZeneca into this country, given that it is been approved as a safe and effective vaccine"
Quote from the CTV, Sarah Turnbull, May 11, 2021 article:
“The leaders of the political parties, Jagmeet Singh, Erin O’Toole, and our prime minister have all had AstraZeneca, so they may not be able to agree on policy, but they certainly have agreed AstraZeneca is a safe and effective vaccine to take”
Doug Ford, Ontario Premier
Quotes from Global News, Ryan Rocca, March 27, 2021 article:
Ford said the “root cause” of any vaccine shortage at the municipal level is the federal government’s procurement process
“We do not have enough vaccines from the federal government and it’s a joke,” the premier said. “Fifty-fifth in the world”
Quotes from the Hamilton Spectator, Adina Bresge, May 1, 2021 article:
"(The variants) got in because of weak border measures"
"I can't stress this enough. We will never get ahead of this virus if we can't keep these deadly new variants out of our country"
Phoenix pay system
Media coverage related to the Phoenix pay system started to be moderate and negative in April. On March 3, iPolitics 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” (iPolitics, Jolson Lim, March 3, 2021).
On March 19, the federal government presented the 2021 budget. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the budget plans $23 million in each of the next 2 years to wipe out the backlog of pay transactions. According to the budget, Public Services and Procurement Canada has asked for the money to help staff process the outstanding transactions (Ottawa Citizen, Jon Willing, April 19, 2021).
Several articles reported on the nightmares and stress that public servants are facing in regards to this year’s income taxes. Marc-André Charbonneau, PSPC spokesperson said “We recommend that current and former employees get in touch with the Client Contact Centre (CCC) and consult the following website [...]”
On May 2, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) rejected their request to review the taxability of Phoenix damages. The National Post reported that PSAC is considering taking legal action to appeal CRA’s decision (La Presse, Isabelle Dubé, April 27, 2021; Journal de Québec, March 22, 2021; TVA, Louis Cloutier, April 30, 2021; National Post, May 3, 2021).
iPolitics reported that PSAC wants parliamentarians to ensure that workers on Parliament Hill get compensation for the Phoenix pay fiasco that's equal to what other public servants have received. In March, more than 140,000 public servants received lump-sum payments of $2,500 before taxes, to compensate for missed, delayed, or erroneous payments made through the Phoenix pay system since 2016. But they did not include Hill staff, who are covered by different legislation than most of the federal public service. Alex Silas, regional executive vice-president for PSAC in the national capital region said that "This is just a basic question of fairness” (iPolitics, Jolson Lim, May 3, 2021).
Le Droit reported that Parliamentary Secretary Steven MacKinnon mentioned that the pay system is more stable and that "Overall, the number of problem cases has decreased by two-thirds compared to the worst of the crisis" while Alex Silas, PSAC Regional Executive Vice-President for the National Capital Region said that "the inaction on the part of the federal government to really [respond to] these problems still exists, too. It's frustrating, it's disappointing, and it's unacceptable.” (Le Droit, Louis-denis Ebacher, May 10, 2021; Radio-Canada, May 15, 2021).
Chris Aylward, Public Service Alliance Canada National President
Quotes from the iPolitics, Jolson Lim, March 3, 2021 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”
Steven MacKinnon, Parliamentary Secretary
Quote from Le Droit, Louis-denis Ebacher, May 10, 2021 article:
“Overall, the number of problem cases has dropped by two thirds compared to the peak of the crisis”
Yvon Barrière, Public Service Alliance of Canada Regional Executive Vice-President, Quebec
Quote from Journal de Québec, March 22, 2021 article:
“It seems as though the Treasury Board refuses to be proactive”
National Shipbuilding Strategy
Parliamentary Budget Officer Report, Canadian Surface Combatant project
The Hill Times reported in a negative tone following the report released by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) on the cost of the Canadian Surface Combatant (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 (The Hill Times, Alan Williams, March 1, 2021).
Cape Breton Post reported that the Department of National Defence (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 (Cape Breton Post, David Pugliese, March 2, 2021).
Ottawa Citizen 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 (Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese, March 9, 2021).
Auditor General’s Report on the National Shipbuilding Strategy
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 Log, Nick Blenkey, February 26, 2021; Radio-Canada, Marc Godbout, February 25, 2021; National Post, John Ivison, February 25, 2021).
Global News 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 (Global News, February 25, 2021).
Government of Canada’s Polar icebreaker announcement
On May 6, the government announced that it is moving forward with the construction of 2 Polar icebreakers under the NSS. A technical briefing with senior government officials was held, followed by a ministerial announcement. Media coverage was moderate and the tone was balanced and mostly factual (Canadian Coast Guard News Release, May 6, 2021).
Global News reported that during a background briefing ahead of the announcement, senior civil servants said the decision to build 2 heavy icebreakers reflected the changing conditions in Canada’s increasingly accessible Arctic regions. They also defended the decision to split the work between the 2 shipyards, rather than give both icebreakers to one, as a prudent step given the pressing need to get the 2 vessels in the water as soon as possible (Canadian Press, Lee Berthiaume, May 6, 2021).
CBC reported that Bernadette Jordan, Fisheries and Oceans Minister and responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard said that they will be “putting thousands of Canadians to work building a fleet that will serve those communities for decades." Journal de Québec said that this will create approximately 300 jobs per ship and nearly 2500 jobs in the supply chain (CBC, Murray Brewster, May 6, 2021; Journal de Québec, Diane Tremblay, May 6, 2021).
CBC reported that federal officials declined on more than 1 occasion to provide any cost estimate or budget for the 2 icebreakers. Articles highlighted that the decision to split the work will most likely ease the tension between Seaspan and Davie, but could come at a cost to taxpayers. Business in Vancouver also noted that the final cost of the 2 vessels will not be known until the contracts are negotiated with Seaspan and Davie but that the overall expected cost to build the 2 new icebreakers would exceed the previous $1.3-billion estimate for the Diefenbaker alone (CBC, Murray Brewster, May 6, 2021; Business in Vancouver, Nelson Bennett, May 6, 2021).
Multiple outlets described the announcement of dividing the work between 2 yards from 2 different provinces, ahead of a possible fall electoral campaign, as a politically-driven decision. Reuters wrote that the federal government promised to build 2 Arctic icebreakers and create hundreds of jobs in 2 politically influential provinces which will likely play a deciding role in the next federal elections. Canadian Press outlined that opposition parties are criticizing the government for playing electoral politics (Radio-Canada, Marc Godbout, May 7, 2021; Reuters, David Ljunggren, May 6, 2021; Canadian Press, May 6, 2021).
On May 25, Victoria Times-Colonist reported that the COVID-19 pandemic is “throwing yet another wrench in the construction of new ships” though the amount of damage won’t be fully known until after the pandemic has subsided. The article mentions PSPC deputy minister Bill Matthews and notes that he participated at a House of Commons committee earlier that day touching on the replacement of aging navy and coast guard fleets and measures to ensure existing ships can remain in the water until replacements arrive. Mr. Matthews noted that these measures will come with “substantial” added costs. The article also noted that Mr. Matthews blamed numerous cost overruns and delays with overly optimistic planning at the onset of the project, among other issues (Victoria Times-Colonist, May 25, 2021).
Dan Le Bouthillier, Department of National Defence spokesperson
Quote from the Cape Breton Post, David Pugliese, March 2, 2021 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, David Pugliese, March 2, 2021 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, David Pugliese, March 9, 2021 article:
"There doesn't seem to be a clear rationale when it comes to explaining these cost increases”
Statement from Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from the Marine Log, Nick Blenkey, February 26, 2021 article:
“Given the importance of the strategy, we welcome the Auditor General of Canada’s report and accept all of the recommendations. As the Auditor General acknowledges, shipbuilding is complex and challenging work, and we continue to seek opportunities to improve the strategy”
“During the early years of the strategy, initial plans and projections were not yet informed by actual build experience at the shipyards, and expertise in industry and government was developing. Many decisions taken during this period led to the establishment of schedules that we now know to be unrealistic. Today, we have a much more evidence-based and reliable understanding of the time, effort and expenditures required to build world-class vessels”
Pierre Paul-Hus, Conservative Party, procurement critic / Richard Bragdon, Conservative Party, fisheries critic
Quotes from the Canadian Press, May 6, 2021 article:
''After over a half-decade in government, the Liberals have re-announced that Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver will be building a heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard''
''However, the announcement made by the Trudeau Liberals in no way guarantees that Davie Shipyards in Quebec will also get a contract to build a heavy icebreaker''
Yves-François Blanchet, Bloc Québécois Leader
Quote from the Canadian Press, May 6, 2021 article:
“Blanchet suggested until a contract with Davie is signed, Thursday's icebreaker announcement was ''nothing but words'' designed to protect the Liberals' electoral fortunes in Quebec and Vancouver”
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 Citizen 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 (Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese, December 3, 2020).
CBC 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 (CBC, Murray Brewster, December 11, 2020).
Several articles reported on the no fighter jets campaign, which is supported by 16 Canadian peace and faith groups. The articles note that the 14-day water-only fast took place to oppose the federal government’s plan to purchase 88 new fighter jets. The activists are against the purchase of the new fighter jets as they believe the money could be spent on “far more socially useful endeavours” (Winnipeg Free Press, John Longhurst, April 21, 2021; Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Bianca Mugyenyi, April 26, 2021).
On May 15, the Winnipeg Sun published an opinion piece by Alan Williams, former assistant deputy minister of material at DND. The article reports in a negative tone on defence acquisition in general, but makes reference to Minister Anand being asked by Prime Minister Trudeau in December 2019 to “bring forward analyses and options for the creation of Defence Procurement Canada” and notes that to date, there has been no update on this initiative. The article notes that accountability regarding defence procurement is currently shared between the Minister of National Defence and Minister Anand and as long as that continues to happen, “the discipline, rigour and attention to detail present when one single individual is held to account will be lacking” (Winnipeg Sun, Alan Williams, May 15, 2021).
Dan Le Bouthillier, spokesperson, Department of National Defence
Quotes from the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese, December 3, 2020 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 Post 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. (National Post, Christopher Nardi, December 3, 2020)
CBC 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 News 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 Times 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, Assistant Deputy Minister 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. (CBC, Chris Rands, December 2, 2020; CTV News, Tyler Fleming, December 15, 2020; The Hill Times, Palak Mangat, December 14, 2020)
Ottawa Citizen 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. (Ottawa Citizen, Aedan Helmer, December 21, 2020)
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 Droit 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. (Le Droit, Louis-denis Ebacher, February 7, 2021)
The Hill Times reported on March 3 that the House of Commons approved the “design for the entrance to the new, underground visitors' welcome centre complex being built in the shadow of the Centre Block building.” This space will serve as the main public entrance to Parliament Hill and is the preferred option of Centrus, the architectural firm working on the project. (The Hill Times, Laura Ryckewaert, March 3, 2021)
The Hill Times reported on the complexities involved in surrounding a construction site with hoarding boards. In an access to information request it was revealed that PSPC began discussions related to the hoarding boards and how to enhance to them to appear as “art work”. The article notes PSPC spokesperson, Michèle LaRose said in a March 2 email, that the installation of the hoarding boards was due to begin in summer 2021 however also said that "the exact timing for the installation will have to follow local health guidelines." The article reveals the estimated cost of the boards is $375,000. (The Hill Times, Ken Rubin, March 22, 2021)
On March 15, The Hill times reported on the Centre Block virtual reality tour, produced by the National Film Board and the Library of Parliament. The tour, free to anyone with compatible headsets is called “Parliament—Parlement” and is also available on YouTube for those without the expensive equipment. The tour, while costly with a total cost of $1.7million, “guides you through the past, the present, and the future of Parliament and Canadian democracy”. (The Hill Times, Alice Chen, March 15, 2021)
Multiple outlets reported on the April 29 launch of a rapid testing program for on-site workers on the Centre Block rehabilitation project. The decision to implement the rapid testing program came after an entire work unit was sent home following a positive COVID-19 test. However the Hill Times reported that at least 30 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed on the Hill, including “including 3 among Senate staff, 16 employed by House administration, and 12 in security since a few months after the onset of the pandemic, according to each body.” (Ottawa Citizen, Marco Vigliotti, April 23, 2021; The Hill Times, Samantha Wright Allen, May 4, 2021, May 11, 2021)
Following a May 21 PSPC news release, the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Business Journal reported on the launch of an architectural design competition aimed at restoring the block facing Parliament Hill, known as “block 2”, into an “innovative complex that will meet the needs of a modern Parliament.” The Ottawa Business Journal reported that “block 2” is made up of 11 buildings, 2 of which will be “dedicated to an Indigenous people’s space and are not part of the design competition.” Twelve firms qualified for the competition, following a bidding process that closed in March. (PSPC news release, May 21, 2021; Ottawa Business Journal, May 21, 2021; Ottawa Citizen, May 22, 2021)
Anita Anand, Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quote from PSPC news release, May 21, 2021:
"I look forward to seeing the new vision of the prominent city block facing Parliament Hill. This competition has assembled top architecture firms to develop designs that will complement one of the most unique settings of parliamentary buildings in the world, one in which Canadians can continue to take pride"
Marie-Pier Gauthier, Producer, National Film Board of Canada
Quotes from The Hill Times, Alice Chen, May 15, 2021 article:
“The broader inspiration for the project as a whole came out of a desire to give access to the space in light of the renovations that will leave Centre Block closed for at least a decade”
"It's crazy to imagine that such a building will not be available for the next 10 years. It's an entire generation of students that will not go into such a place"
Rob Wright, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Quotes from the CBC, Chris Rands, December 2, 2021 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
On March 10, the Hill Times reported that 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" (The Hill Times, March 10, 2021).
On March 17, the Hill Times continued to report on concerns around translation services, writing that after early warnings over the rate of injury interpreters were experiencing as a result of the shift to virtual last spring, the Translation Bureau introduced temporary measures in an effort to protect the workforce, including reducing shift hours for distance interpreting—so teams of 3 interpreters work 4-hour shifts, instead of 6-hour ones; and teams of 2 work 3-hour shifts, instead of 4—to curb the amount of time individual interpreters were exposed to the strain of the lower-quality audio that comes with virtual meetings. There were also a few articles reporting the Request for Proposal for the new contract for federal freelance interpreters. Articles tended to be more negative in tone while mainly being factual.
On May 3, the Calgary Sun reported that translators, being independent contractors, are not eligible for sick leave benefits. The article noted that approximately 80 translators must work in person on Parliament Hill, and face getting ill from the virus, or those that work remotely face increased injury from the sound quality of platforms used for virtual parliamentary meetings. The Hill Times reported that "If this RFP [request for proposal, with contract terms] goes forward without taking into account our concerns then it will be left to each and every one of our members to decide if they want to work or not want to work under those conditions for the Government of Canada", Said Nicole Gagnon. "Here we have a government that's saying they want to help the people, but yet when it comes down to supplying their own people that they're hiring under a contract, they don't want to give them that type of benefit. I just think it's absurd", said New Democratic Party (NDP) labour critic Scott Duvall (The Hill Times, Laura Ryckewaert, March 10, 2021; The Hill Times, Laura Ryckewaert, March 17, 2021; Calgary Sun, Stephanie Taylor, May 3, 2021).
On May 26, Le Devoir reported that it had obtained a copy of a survey performed by the union that showed 82% of interpreters had experienced some auditory damage due to working online, with 78% of respondents having taken time off because of the issues. The article notes that interpreting smaller sessions and internal ministerial conferences has ceased for now, but once those are needed again, the situation will become that much direr. (Le Devoir, Marie Vastel, May 26, 2021)
Nicole Gagnon, Advocacy Lead, Canadian chapter of International Association of Conference Interpreters
Quote from the Calgary Sun, Stephanie Taylor, May 3, 2021 article:
“You would think that in the midst of controversy surrounding the issue of making sure people don’t go to work sick, it seems to us, as a community, that it’s a bit tone deaf on the part of government”
International Association of Conference Interpreters, January 2021 report
Quote from the Hill Times, Laura Ryckewart, March 10, 2021 article:
"The bilingual character of Canada is being set aside as discourse in Parliament is forced into 1 language, usually English, because sound quality and other technical problems prevent interpreters from being able to do their jobs"
Visa Application Center in Beijing
The Globe and Mail wrote a series of articles regarding Canada’s Visa Application Centre in Beijing. The articles reported that the application centre in Beijing is managed by the Beijing police, noting that its management structure was only discovered in early 2021. In a response to a written question from NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan, it was discovered that PSPC became aware in February 2021, that “Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company is ultimately owned by the Beijing Public Security Bureau.” Beijing Shuangxiong is a subcontractor for VFS Global, a company that operates 11 Canadian visa centres in mainland China. PSPC spokesperson Michèle Larose is quoted saying VFS is “verifying the reliability and trustworthiness of all employees at the visa centre in Beijing prior to employment". It was noted that VFS does not make decisions on the granting of visas, rather only collects information to be forwarded to immigration officials. (The Globe and Mail, Steven Chase, Nathan Vanderklippe, February 2, 2021; March 10, 2021; April 29, 2021)
Jenny Kwan, New Democratic Partyimmigration critic and member of Parliament for Vancouver East
Quote from Globe and Mail, March 10, 2021 article:
"If I was somebody who was submitting an application to that visa office centre, I would be very concerned knowing it is owned by the Beijing police and the person who is the general manager for that company is selected by the Chinese communist party"
Richard Fadden, former Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Quotes from Globe and Mail, March 10, 2021 article:
"An instrument of the Chinese government has access to a facility in China with connections to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada"
"I cannot think of a more promising entry point for China's cyberspies"
Document navigation for "Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates: June 2, 2021"
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