Canada’s intergovernmental affairs minister disputed accusations that the federal government had blocked provinces from purchasing their own COVID-19 vaccines, doubling down that the comments made by the Manitoban premier were incorrect.
During an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Dominic LeBlanc said that “in no way would we presume to tell a province what it can or can’t do on an international market.”
The minister’s comments come amid statements from Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, who told Stephenson in a separate interview on The West Block that vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna said they couldn’t sell to Manitoba as they had signed a contract forbidding them from dealing directly with provinces.
Pallister said recent comments from Procurement Minister Anita Anand that provinces would be free to ink out their own deals to access COVID-19 vaccines were “false,” adding that those companies would not sell to them because it was “part of the deal they made with the federal government.”
When asked by Stephenson whether there was anything in the federal government’s contract that prevented provinces from buying doses from Pfizer and Moderna, LeBlanc said that there was nothing in their deal that would “preclude a province from deciding on its own that they want to pursue a parallel or different strategy.”
“We don’t necessarily think that’s the most coherent way to approach it, but we’re certainly not in a position to block somebody who wants to try,” LeBlanc said.
Last week, Pallister committed to buying two million doses of a made-in-Canada mRNA vaccine developed by Providence Therapeutics.
Other provinces have since indicated an intention to acquire more doses of the vaccine, with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Thursday calling for other provincial leaders to join an inter-provincial taskforce to make domestically-made vaccines a reliable source of immunization in the country.
The provinces’ moves come amid this month’s slowdown of vaccine deliveries from both Moderna and Pfizer. Last week, shipments of the Moderna vaccine were 50,000 doses less than the 230,000 that was promised while only one-fifth of the Pfizer-BioNTech shipment arrived.
Vaccination rates in Canada have been relatively slow in comparison to many other countries, despite touts from Canada’s government over their procurement of the vaccine to be among the most diverse in the world. Despite the slowdown, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintains his government’s earlier promise that all Canadians who want a vaccine would be able to receive one by September.
In response to Canada’s vaccinations, which sits at just over 1.2 million in comparison to the 48 million in the U.S. and 14 million in the U.K., LeBlanc said that Canadians should expect a massive increase in the number of vaccines arriving come March.
“But very significantly, April, May and June we’ll see literally millions per week arriving. Those are the procurement agreements we have in place. We were lucky we got some early doses in December that weren’t expected,” said LeBlanc.
“But these rankings that you see in different publications will change over time and you’ll see in the next number of weeks and in the very few weeks that are in front of us, you’ll see a very significant increase in the number of Canadians getting vaccinated and that’s obviously very important for us, too.”
— With files from Amanda Connolly and Heide PearsonView link »