Sunday, November 29, 2020

MPs pass Conservative motion to initiate expansive committee study on feds’ pandemic response, despite Liberals’ objections

MPs pass Conservative motion to initiate expansive committee study on feds' pandemic response, despite Liberals' objections

Parliamentarians on Monday passed a Conservative motion that will allow a committee to launch an expansive study into the government’s COVID response, despite warnings from the Liberals that the move to disclose sensitive documents “jeopardizes” contracts to secure vaccines and medical equipment.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner’s (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.) motion passed in a 176-152 vote, with support from the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, and the Greens. 

Her motion called for MPs to dig into Ottawa’s procurement process for a vaccine, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s communications strategy, and its evaluation of the World Health Organization’s advice, among other things.

Ms. Rempel Garner’s original motion granted the government 15 days to produce and hand over documents to the committee. After the Liberals called the timeline “physically impossible” to meet, she proposed an amendment to extend the deadline to Nov. 30. On that vote, which ultimately passed, a number of Liberals abstained, including Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), Vance Badawey (Niagara Centre, Ont.), and Larry Bagnell (Yukon). 

The first iteration of the motion appeared before the House Health Committee weeks ago, and the Conservatives accused the Liberals on that committee of filibustering efforts to initiate the study without direction from the House.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand says the motion could make suppliers ‘hesitant to” sign contracts with Ottawa. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

The motion remained a sticking point for the parties over the weekend. 

Procurement Minister Anita Anand (Oakville, Ont.) expressed “grave concern” just hours before the Monday vote, saying that its passage could impact Ottawa’s ongoing negotiations to secure vaccine doses and other pandemic-related contracts.

“This is not about politics. As we are in the middle of the second wave, and the number of COVID cases continues to increase, this is not the time for this motion to be passed,” she told reporters

Ms. Anand warned the passage of the motion would “threaten and weaken our relationship with our suppliers on whom Canadians’ health and safety depends.” It would lead to the feds’ relationships and disclosure of sensitive information with suppliers to be “brought into the full-fledged public eye,” which could make suppliers “hesitant to contract” with Ottawa.

“I do not want to be back here to explain to Canadians that because of the disclosure that we were forced to make, we were not able to secure vaccines or personal protective equipment for Canadians because our suppliers chose to walk away,” she said. “That would be a highly unfortunate, if not a life-threatening, announcement to have to make.”

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, whose vaccine candidate is one of a number Canada has sought to secure, raised similar concerns about the “unintended consequences” of the motion, according to The Canadian Press.

Over the weekend, Dennis Darby, Canadian Exporters and Manufacturers president, wrote to Ms. Anand that his group is “very concerned” that proprietary and confidential business information could be released if the motion passes. As reported by CTV, the letter adds companies secured contracts with Ottawa and retooled their facilities “under the assumption that any shared sensitive business information would be kept confidential.”

Ms. Rempel Garner accused the Liberals before the vote of “fear-mongering” and called the concerns “hyperbolic.” 

“It is the job of Parliament to ask these questions. We need to understand where we’re going,” Ms. Rempel Garner told reporters Monday morning, ahead of the vote in the House. The motion, she added, will provide “some certainty on how we’re moving forward with the pandemic.”

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner dismissed the government’s concerns that it could jeopardize the procurement process, saying they’re exaggerated. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade 

Ms. Rempel Garner, her party’s health critic, said the government’s opposition to the motion appears to be rooted in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) apparent desire to send voters to the polls. 

“If he wants to go to an election, that’s a responsibility he needs to take. In the meantime, the members of every opposition party are going to be focused on the health and safety of Canadians, which is what this motion does,” she said. 

Ms. Rempel Garner’s motion was not designated a matter of confidence by the Liberals.

The vote follows just days after a parliamentary showdown last week that saw MPs dodge the possibility of an election by shooting down a Conservative motion to set up an “anti-corruption” committee that would revive a probe into the WE Charity controversy and other conflict-of-interest allegations levelled against the Liberals. That vote was marked a test of confidence, and had the Liberals lost, an election would have been called.

The Liberals pitched a committee that would study all pandemic-related spending as a counter proposal, which was rejected. 

Ms. Anand pointed to the counterproposal as proof that “there is no question” that her party supports a study of the COVID-19 response by MPs. But, she said, the Liberals’ opposition to Ms. Rempel Garner’s motion remained rooted in the possibility of releasing sensitive corporate information.

The Hill Times

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