THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 21, Season 10
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Brian Pallister, Manitoba Premier
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister
Morgan Elliott, Huawei Canada’s Vice President of Government Affairs
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Vaccination vexation. Is Canada’s plan on track or off the rails?
Dawna Friesen, Global National Anchor: “Manitoba’s premier is making his own deal to buy vaccines, separate from the federal government.”
Mercedes Stephenson: So she’s saying it’s not true, that they blocked you.
Brian Pallister, Manitoba Premier: “The minister is totally wrong and we can certainly provide you with ample evidence.”
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: “In no way would we presume to tell a province what it can or can’t do on an international market.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Travel restrictions are coming into force, but there are more questions than answers from Ottawa.
And Huawei Canada wants 5G here but refuses to condemn the imprisonment of the Michaels.
It’s Sunday, February 14th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
The global race for the COVID-19 vaccine is at full throttle, while Canada is still lagging behind other G7 countries vaccination rates.
On Friday, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Ottawa negotiated an accelerated delivery schedule with Pfizer and secured additional doses from Moderna. But in the wake of delays and confusion, some provinces are looking for their own solutions.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister took it upon himself to purchase 2 million doses of the Providence Therapeutics vaccine. This made-in-Canada option is very early on in clinical trials, but the company’s CEO says it could get Health Canada approval by fall.
Premier Pallister is the first premier to buy vaccines but says he doesn’t expect it to be the last.
Big announcement last week from you that you’re going to be seeking the Providence vaccine from a Canadian manufacturer. You want to buy 1.3 million doses. They’ll be delivered in 2022. What led you to this decision?
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: Well, first of all, I think we are all aware of the vagaries of depending on our foreign suppliers for vaccines by this point. We’re 37th or 38th of the countries of the world in terms of getting vaccines into the arms of our citizens and so we, in planning ahead, more for insurance purposes frankly, than for this year. We hope the federal government can deliver all the vaccines we need this year. But going forward, we’d like to see Canadian companies able to produce these vaccines for us in Manitoba and perhaps for all Canadians as well, and that gives us more security going forward. And we’ll need that either for boosters next year or for the next pandemic that comes along. We’re going to need Canadian production right here at home.
Mercedes Stephenson: Providence Therapeutics says they need about 50 million doses to be able to build a production facility. They need that many orders. Have you talked to other premiers about some kind of a strategy here because Manitoba may be ordering it? But if Providence doesn’t get enough orders, they’re not going to build the facility. So are you trying to build a broader strategy here between the provinces?
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: Yeah of course, absolutely. I mean the premiers have spoken about this, generally. There has been—I’ve written to every premier. I know Premier Kenney is also pursuing this and I believe that other premiers will join in.
We have been blocked in our ability by the federal government’s practice of eliminating from the possibility all sub-national governments being able to order vaccines from the ones that the companies that are dealing with the federal government. We’ve knocked on their doors. They told us we can’t buy from them. So we’ve gone to a Canadian company that the federal government is not contracted with, to supply us with vaccines and they’ll act as insurance, as I said, if there are delays going into the fall and with the hope that, of course, we can have a vaccine developed and approved by Health Canada by fall if need be. And if not, then we have assurance for the coming years that we’ll be able to have a Canadian supplier taking care of our needs.
Mercedes Stephenson: Premier, you said that the federal government has blocked your ability and the provinces ability to do this. You’ve mentioned the same thing last week when you gave a press conference about this. Anita Anand, who we had on the show last week, she is the procurement minister—said, “At no point has the federal government prevented provinces from undertaking their own procurements.” So she’s saying it’s not true that they blocked you. What’s your response to that?
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: My response is that the minister is totally wrong and we can certainly provide you with ample evidence of our work in reaching out to the various companies the federal government had signed up with. They’ve all told us that they are not going to sell to us because that’s part of the deal they made with the federal government. To me, that’s blocking.
Look, if they want to make a rational argument as to why they’ve centralized the purchase, I think that’s fair enough. Centralizing the purchase with the federal government, make your argument but don’t discredit a premier who was telling the truth here. You know, clearly, we’ve had to go around the federal government to find a company that we could get to produce vaccines here in Canada because they have blocked our ability to do so. That’s the fact.
Mercedes Stephenson: So I want to go back to that. Is that why you didn’t go to Pfizer and Moderna? Are you saying you did try to go to those companies and they told you part of our contract with the federal government is that we cannot sell to the provinces?
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: Yes, absolutely correct, Mercedes. We have tried Pfizer. We’ve tried Moderna. I could go down the list: AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and so on and so forth. They are not allowed, by their deal with the federal government, to sell to the provinces. And look, let the federal government make their arguments as to why they wanted to buy them centrally. That’s fine. I accept that. But the fact remains that the suppliers are not supplying vaccines to us in a ready manner this year and so I think it’s a concern to all Canadians that we not be put in a position again, of relying on suppliers who may be looking after other people’s needs before Canadians. And I think we have the need to build up a domestic manufacturing capacity here and I know that the prime minister’s acknowledged that as well. So I don’t think we’re at odds here, apart from Minister Anand’s false statement. We certainly support the federal government’s efforts. We are all cheering for the federal government to get these vaccines here. Our job is to get them in arms and we could do that in Manitoba in the next eight weeks if we had the vaccines. Every province, I believe, is readied up. The problem is we just don’t have the vaccines at this point in time. But what we’re doing now, is insurance for future availability, to make sure we don’t have these kinds of delays again, because they are making people sick that would be able to be cured if they had a vaccine. And they are costing people lives and that is the fact. We want to prevent that in future and that’s why these actions are being taken by my government.
Mercedes Stephenson: Have you asked the federal government why they signed a contract that prevented these companies from selling to the provinces?
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: Yeah, most certainly we’ve had that discussion months ago and asked for some change that isn’t forthcoming and that’s okay. As I said, they had their rationale for why they want to be the sole distributor of vaccines. But as you know, this is an exceptional pandemic, an exceptional year. In a normal year, provincial governments would be responsible for health care delivery. And so in future years, I don’t expect the federal government to be looking after all our needs as they have in many respects endeavoured to do during this pandemic. And so it’s about making sure you can help the needy of the world by not being one yourself, quite frankly. I don’t like seeing us have to take back vaccines from underdeveloped countries in the Third World because we haven’t been able to make our own here. I don’t think anybody likes that. And so going forward, it’d be nice to be able to help other people around the planet by helping ourselves first. And we need to do that by bolstering our domestic vaccine production. We need to do that now and that’s why this measure has been taken by my government and I expect other premiers will follow as well on this. We’ve talked about it and I know others are talking about it as well.
Mercedes Stephenson: Premier, thank you so much for joining us. Please be safe and stay well.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: You too. Thanks so much.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, did the federal government block purchases of the provinces for the COVID-19 vaccine? We’ll have more on this to come, and Canada’s new travel restrictions with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
Mercedes Stephenson: Border restrictions, COVID-19 vaccines and rapid testing all made headlines this week. But there are a lot of questions still on the federal government’s plan to curb the spread of the virus.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc joins me now to hopefully provide some answers to the questions that we all have.
Thank you so much for joining me, Minister. I want to start by asking you about the comments that were made by Premier Brian Pallister just ahead of you on the show. He says that he has talked to both Pfizer and Moderna and that they told him they couldn’t sell to provinces because the federal government had signed a contract with them that forbid them from buying directly, that only the Canadian government could buy. That goes directly against what your government has said in public, which is that you’ve in no way, blocked the access to vaccines. Is it true that in the contracts, provinces are not allowed to buy directly?
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc: Mercedes, no it’s not. We’ve said from the beginning that obviously provinces are sovereign orders of government under our Constitution and they can choose to deal with global pharmaceutical companies or Canadian pharmaceutical companies as they wish. We thought there was value in having a national procurement that Canada as a country would go on these global markets and aggressively and effectively procure different vaccines. That’s exactly what we’ve done. And obviously we’re distributing them to the provinces as quickly as we get them. But in no way would we presume to tell a province what it can or can’t do on an international market.
Mercedes Stephenson: So just to be clear, you’re saying this is not in the contracts. There is nothing in the contracts that forbids the provinces from buying doses from Pfizer and Moderna. And in that case, are you saying that Premier Pallister is lying?
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc: I’m not familiar with the way Premier Pallister has gone about trying to procure vaccines. But I can tell you is that the Government of Canada, from the beginning, told provinces and I was in a number of those conversations that we’re going to, on behalf of all Canadians, procure as many vaccines as quickly as we possibly can. That’s exactly what we’ve done. But in no way does that 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.
Mercedes Stephenson: So you’re saying Premier Pallister, what he’s saying is not true. I want to shift gears on that, though, to say—to talk about what’s happening with the vaccination rates.
In the United States, 300 million people will be vaccinated by July. So far, they’ve vaccinated 48 million people. In the U.K., 14 million people have been vaccinated. In Canada, it’s only 1.2 million. Why are we so far behind?
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc: We’ve said from the beginning, Mercedes, that there would be a massive increase in the number of vaccines that would arrive in Canada as we got into next month, into 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. We’re still hopeful and still working, obviously, every week, every day on ways to accelerate those doses. 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.
Mercedes Stephenson: We spoke about the report that was done on the governor general. You handled that file. Your government is not facing questions about whether you adequately handled allegations that were made against former chief of the defence staff General Jonathan Vance in regards to female subordinance. The defence minister was on the show last week. He says he knew about concerns and allegations in 2018. They sent an email to Privy Council Office, but he won’t say whether he raised it with the prime minister. The prime minister won’t tell us if he knew. Your government has said over and over again, you’re a feminist government and you’re committed to safety in the workplace, but we can’t seem to get answers about what was actually done when concerns were raised and whether you feel that this was adequate and enough was done to look into the situation.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc: So you mentioned, Mercedes, the Rideau Hall example. I had been involved, obviously, in overseeing some of that independent review, precisely because as you said, we believe every Canadian has the right to work in a safe, respectful workplace. Obviously that includes the Canadian Armed Forces, like it includes the Public Service of Canada. We take those allegations very seriously. I learned about the allegations, in fact, on your program. Those are the first time I was informed of allegations concerning General Vance. My understanding is those are now properly subject to investigation by military authorities. That’s the proper place where those allegations can be investigated. That’s the only information that I have with respect to that case.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, that’s all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us this weekend, Minister.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc: Thank you, Mercedes, have a great weekend.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, my interview with Huawei Canada: why they want to be able to build 5G even while two Michaels remain in prison.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s been over two years since Michael Spavour and Michael Kovrig were arbitrarily detained in China, following the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. They sit in Chinese prisons as she remains under house arrest in Vancouver, awaiting an extradition ruling. Immigration officials in Canada gave permission for her family to travel here. Meanwhile, the two Michaels only have limited consular access.
This week, the Biden administration called upon China again, to release the two men. Huawei currently wants to get its 5G network into Canada, but there are concerns about the company’s ties to the Chinese government and allegations of complicity in human rights violations.
Joining me now for some answers, is Huawei Canada’s Vice President of Government Affairs Morgan Elliot. Thanks for joining us.
A new administration in the United States, the Biden administration, there’s been a lot of questions about the relationship with China and Huawei and which way that’s likely to go. What kind of reception has your company received from the Biden administration so far.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Well I think what we’ve seen so far, is a measured approach by the current administration. Definitely a different approach than the different president and we haven’t had that much interaction with the U.S. government at this point. You know we’re always open to having conversations. Earlier this week, you know, our CEO did mention that he’d be happy to talk to President Biden or anyone in that administration to have a conversation. And I guess what that arises from is, you know, I think we’re all frustrated with the lack of communications between the government on a—between governments on a number of issues. You know, the company has never done anything wrong. We’ve been transparent in all our interactions. Meng Wanzhou has done nothing wrong. And we’ve gotten to a point where…
Mercedes Stephenson: Sorry, I’m just going to stop you there because I think that’s interesting. Your company’s position is, and as the Canadian version of Huawei, that Meng Wanzhou has done nothing wrong. So you don’t think that the RCMPs arrest of her was legitimate.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: The Company has done nothing wrong. Meng Wanzhou has nothing wrong—done nothing wrong. You know, we’re seeing in this situation, the previous president using companies and unfortunately people as political pawns and so we’ve gotten into the situation today, where Canada has been put in a hard place in terms of trying to deal with its friendship with Americans and its business interests in China. And Mr. Ren, like any father, wants his daughter home just as the families of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavour want their families home. They—this is a political situation that requires political discussion and political solutions.
Mercedes Stephenson: As a Canadian, though, you know, are you comfortable with calling the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavour, political and it’s just pointing fingers? They were arbitrarily detained. So I guess I’ll put it to you right now. Will you call for their release? Will Huawei Canada call for their release?
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: So that’s a very good point and a very good question. First of all, you know, we’re not a political entity. Unfortunately, Huawei has become a surrogate for all things Chinese. We’re not the Chinese government. We’re not an agent of the Chinese government. We’re a company that’s headquartered in China. So in terms of Michael Spavour and Michael Kovrig, you know, we’ve been clear and we haven’t hidden this, any time we go in to talk to a member of parliament, a senior bureaucrat, the Chinese government, we always say, you know, our top three priorities are bring the two Michaels home. Send Meng Wanzhou back to China and then we can start talking about business relations. And so we’ve advocated for a number of different issues and we just want to extract ourselves from this political whirlpool that was instigated by a former administration and nuance.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether Huawei will condemn the detention of the two Michaels. If Huawei wants to do business and you’re speaking as a Canadian, why would the company be unwilling to condemn the treatment of those two Canadian citizens.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Well, as a company, we want everyone home. We want to send Meng Wanzhou back to China…
Mercedes Stephenson: So you see the detention of Meng Wanzhou and the two Michaels…
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs MP: We want Michael Kovrig back home. We want Michael Spavour back home, too as well.
Mercedes Stephenson: You see that as equal? You see those as morally equal, the detention of Meng Wanzhou under a legitimate arrest warrant out of the United States that had an extradition on it and picking up random Canadian citizens and throwing them in jail for two years at a time?
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Again, this was actions that were outside of the company. We’re not a political entity. We’re not a political government. We’re a tech company that wants to do business in Canada.
Mercedes Stephenson: Right. But if you want to do business in Canada…
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: We want all the family’s home.
Mercedes Stephenson: Then Canadians would like to know if you see these two situations as equal, why would Canadians want your company to be doing business here.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Well I think you have to look at our track record on why Canadians want to do our—continue to do business here.
Mercedes Stephenson: No, I think—I think with all due respect, the question is…
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: You know Huawei’s been here…
Mercedes Stephenson: If you’re saying they’re equal, as you’ve noted, are very upset about this situation. These are two Canadian men who have been kept in jail under extraordinarily difficult circumstances while Meng Wanzhou is in a multi-million dollar home in Vancouver. And you’re essentially equating them today here, sir, and saying well it’s not—it’s not for us to say. This is a member of your company. You yourself are linking them. You’re telling us that when you meet with the government, you’re raising this. If you won’t condemn what is happening, why would Canadians trust your company?
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Well listen, we don’t think anyone should be used as a political pawn when it comes to a trade issue. And so no, it wasn’t our decision to detain the two Michaels. We’d like to see them home. We’ve advocated with the Chinese government directly that, you know, the conditions—we’ve asked for conditions to be improved. We’ve asked for other measures to be taken and like I said before, we all want to see this resolution to the situation. We can point fingers and we can, you know, look and see what happened, but that doesn’t solve the issue.
Mercedes Stephenson: Canada’s intelligence chief at CSIS came out this week and said China is undermining Canadian security and trying to steal technology from Canada and silence critics here. On the silencing of critics and minorities, your company in China, filed for an application for a patent that had a Uighur alert technology in it that could identify them as a separate ethnic group. This is a group that has been targeted by the Chinese State and put into forced labour camps. I have to ask you, why should Canadians be comfortable with a company that is identifying software to use visual recognition of people, to identify their ethnic group?
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Sure just back to your first comment about CSIS. Yeah, and we’ve also seen other security agencies in Canada say that they believe that the ability to measure and protect Canadians using Huawei gear is possible. In terms of the Uighurs….
Mercedes Stephenson: Sorry, which security agency said that on the record? I haven’t seen that.
Mercedes Stephenson: That CSE came out and said they think Huawei is safe on the show? I haven’t seen the CSE give any interviews.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: I think it was CCSE…
Mercedes Stephenson: I haven’t seen the CSE give any interviews.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: CCSE, I believe it is. I’m happy to forward it to you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Sure.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: But just in terms—back to the Uighurs because that it equally a critical issue. First of all, that was a mistake. It was wrong. It’s completely unacceptable and not compatible with the views of Huawei. And we don’t condone and we don’t want to see our equipment used to discriminate or oppress any group. Point blank, stop. It shouldn’t have been done. It was a total mistake because you can imagine with a company of 200 thousand people, sometimes stuff gets posted and it was a mistake. And we unequivocally condone the use of our technology to discriminate or oppress any group.
Mercedes Stephenson: So, so you accidentally had this end up in a patent application? I mean this is a pretty major technology. It’s not like someone accidentally put the wrong line in. If you’ve developed this technology, that’s an investment of resources, an investment of people, an investment of time. That’s intention. That’s not somebody accidentally made a typo in a patent application.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: It was a mistake. My belief and my understanding is that it’s not a patent application. It was a paper posted on our website. And again, we unequivocally condone the use of our technology to discriminate or oppress any group.
Mercedes Stephenson: Sorry, you condone it or you condemn it?
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Both.
Mercedes Stephenson: You condone it?
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: We, we, we do not condone the use of our technology to discriminate or oppress.
Mercedes Stephenson: And yet it was in a patent. Okay. Well thank you very much. We appreciate your time and sharing your perspective with us.
Morgan Elliot, Huawei Canada’s VP of Government Affairs: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Global News followed up with CSE about Mr. Elliot’s claims on the safety and security of Huawei 5G and despite what he told us on the program, CSE says they have not commented publicly on 5G security.
That’s all the time we have for today. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. See you next week.