Getting a batch of COVID-19 vaccine before Christmas is about the best present Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could have hoped for this holiday season.
Trudeau had been getting roasted like a yuletide turkey by the opposition over the Liberal government’s vague plans to get the vaccine into the arms of Canadians.
For that, Trudeau and company had only themselves to blame.
The political damage for the Liberals started piling up when Trudeau said Canada had no capacity to produce our own vaccines and other countries that did would vaccinate their own citizens first.
Then, as other countries unveiled fast-tracked vaccine schedules, the Trudeau government could only offer some fuzzy guesswork on when vaccines would arrive in Canada.
Trudeau’s estimates did not seem fully in sync with those of his key cabinet ministers. And a leaked military planning document seemed to muddy the vaccine waters even further.
It was almost like Christmas came early for opposition parties eager to rip Trudeau for sticking Canadians at “the back of the line” for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The government has no plan,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told me, noting pandemic-weary citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and other countries had already received detailed vaccine roll-out strategies and schedules.
That’s why Trudeau’s announcement that Canada could receive 249,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as early as next week was such a welcome one for the Liberals.
“The vaccines are coming,” Trudeau said.
“Shipments will continue to arrive into 2021, with millions of doses on the way. This will move us forward on our whole timeline of vaccine roll-out and is a positive development in getting Canadians protected as soon as possible.”
You could practically hear the sighs of relief coming from Liberal offices on Parliament Hill. It appeared Trudeau was finally offering something substantive to Canadians.
But don’t kid yourself. The vaccine issue is still a politically vexing one for Trudeau.
For one thing, 249,000 doses may sound like a lot, but it will only be enough to vaccinate a small sliver of the population.
The vaccine requires two doses to be effective, meaning fewer than 125,000 Canadians will actually get the first shots.
The vaccine will be given to the most vulnerable first; seniors in long-term care, front-line health-care workers, and pandemic first responders will be near the front of the line.
But that will be just a small fraction of Canadians who are vulnerable to the virus, including nearly six million senior citizens, who will have to wait into the new year.
Then there’s the massive technical challenge of distributing a vaccine that must be stored in deep-freeze temperatures as low as -80 C.
The difficulty of the task is reflected in the government’s cautious plan to initially distribute the vaccine through just 14 still-undisclosed distribution points, a tiny number when you consider the vast dimensions of Canada.
All of this points to a slow vaccine roll-out. And the opposition will still be hounding Trudeau as it unfolds.
“Canadians still don’t have critical information,” O’Toole said.
“Last week, we learned that every American will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June. This means that our neighbours to the south have certainty and hope. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Canadians.”
Trudeau’s best-case scenario is for the initial vaccine rollout to go smoothly, while scheduled shipments of additional vaccine arrive on time in the new year.
The Liberals will also eagerly point at anti-vaccine elements within the Conservative Party, including former Tory leadership challenger Derek Sloan, who is championing an anti-vax petition to O’Toole’s embarrassment.
But the proof, as they say, will be in the Christmas pudding.
Trudeau will now be forced to back up his vaccine promises with action in 2021, though I still believe a possible snap election call in the spring could throw everyone for a loop.
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.