Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected appeals from the country’s provincial and territorial premiers Thursday to release details of the contracts the federal government has signed with various vaccine manufacturers.
Trudeau and the premiers held a First Ministers Meeting (FMM) by teleconference late Thursday afternoon, the 26th such call since the pandemic began.
But this meeting comes as the federal government is under intense pressure to explain disruptions in the delivery schedule of vaccines from Pfizer-Biontech and from Moderna.
Both manufacturers have been unable to provide the government with any certainty in terms of shipments of vaccine either firm will be able to deliver through the month of March.
During the hour-long FMM, Trudeau made his own pitch to the premiers that they needed to help him restore public confidence in Canada’s vaccination plan. Trudeau has repeatedly said in public that Canada should have received 4 million doses of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine and 2 million doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of March.
He also said that he expects enough vaccine will have been delivered to Canada so that, by September, any Canadian who wants a vaccine will have been able to get one.
According to sources in both premiers’ offices and in the PMO, premiers were united in their frustration with the vaccine distributions — a sense of frustration shared by the prime minister.
Trudeau, for his part, encouraged premiers to tell their constituents what he’s been saying publicly: that weekly disruptions in supplies are to be expected, but that he has been assured by the CEOs of both Pfizer and Moderna that they will meet their contractual obligations to Canada to provide a combined 6 million doses by the end of March.
Trudeau also referenced the fact that, in addition to speaking this week to the global chief executives of both Pfizer and Moderna, he also had a telephone call with AstraZeneca’s CEO. AstraZeneca currently has a vaccine candidate up for review by Health Canada and Canada is in line to acquire millions of its vaccine should it be approved.
But according to aides of more than one premier who participated in the meeting, premiers told Trudeau that public confidence in the federal governments ability to deliver on those commitments is beginning to fade.
As a result, Quebec Premier Francois Legault asked Trudeau to provide the first ministers with details of vaccine contracts the government has signed.
Trudeau refused, saying it would not be productive to do so, according to aides of premiers who participated on the call. Trudeau and his cabinet have similarly rejected multiple requests since December from Global News and other journalists to provide details of vaccine contracts.
A PMO source said the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who also participated in the FMM, told premiers he would consider their request and determine what, if any, parts of the contracts the federal government might be able to disclose.
Trudeau did repeat, though, what Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand had earlier on Thursday told a parliamentary commitee: that the Canadian government’s contracts with vaccine manufacturers put obligations on vaccine makers to hit delivery targets on a quarterly basis, and that there is nothing in those contracts that requires a company to meet weekly delivery schedules.
And while vaccine distribution was the dominant topic of discussion for the First Ministers Meeting, Trudeau also used the occasion to encourage premiers to put the millions of rapid test kits that Ottawa has procured to use.
Thursday’s First Ministers’ Meeting was also the final one of its kinds for Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil who is set to retire once the Liberal party in Nova Scotia elects a new leader on Saturday.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey did not participate in Thursday’s FMM as he is in the midst of a provincial general election. His province was was represented on the call by a senior bureaucrat.