The West Block — Episode 30, Season 10

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Watch the full episode of The West Block on Sunday, April 18, 2021


Episode 30, Season 10

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Host: Mercedes Stephenson


Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader

Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician

Location: Ottawa, Ontario


Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Pandemic breaking point.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia Provincial Health Officer: “This is a different game right now.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Accountability on Canada’s vaccine strategy—too little, too late?

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health: “Things are not going to get better. If we don’t change what we’re doing, things will in fact, get worse.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Doubling back on a carbon tax, the Conservative plan to fight climate change.

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: “We recognize that the most efficient way to reduce our emissions is to use pricing mechanisms.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, April 18th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

We’re now weeks into a punishing third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Canadians are bracing for yet another surge. Canada is seeing more per capita cases than the United States, and communities across the country are dealing with record daily case counts. Provinces, too, are struggling to cope and they’re asking the federal government for help. There are questions about whether we are now ahead of being able to vaccinate our way out of this third wave.

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Joining me is Anita Anand, the minister in charge of procuring vaccines for Canada. Thank you for joining us, Minister Anand, we hope you’re well.

It’s a very difficult and dark week here in Canada for Canadians. We are seeing projections in Ontario of up to 15 thousand to 18 thousand COVID cases a day. That is higher than what New York State saw when they were pulling in freezer trucks because of the number of deaths.

A year ago, this is what we were afraid of. Here we are a year later, and we’re finding ourselves in the worst-case-scenario of ICUs being overwhelmed. Doctors are saying this is because we did not vaccinate fast enough. Did your government fail?

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: Well thanks for having me here, Mercedes.

I’m a mom who lives in Ontario. I have four kids and three dogs, and I feel very much the consternation that is being felt across the province. And I will say that our diversified portfolio of vaccines has enabled 12.7 million doses to be delivered to Canada. To date, 9.2 million doses have been administered. We are second in the G-20 for the rate of vaccinations looking at the daily doses administered over a 7-day rolling average. We have more work to do, but we are pulling in vaccines by the millions. And for a country that doesn’t have domestic production when we are in the middle of a global pandemic, when every country and citizen wants the same product, Canada will continue to compete in this environment. We will continue to bring vaccines in and we will continue to support the provinces and territories and push out vaccine to them as soon as possible.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Canada’s performance is starting to get international attention and not in a good way. CNNs Jake Tapper, tweeted Canadians deserve better. We are looking at astronomical numbers and again, doctors are saying the vaccines did not come early enough. They did not come fast enough. We now cannot even vaccinate ourselves out the third wave. It’s too late, it’s crashing over us.

When you look at the situation with the number of people in ICUs and the number of people dying, are you satisfied with that? Do you think that this is an acceptable performance?

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: Well listen, I think we are all very concerned and are watching the case numbers in Ontario and across the country with a great deal of consternation. By the same token, we have millions of doses in this country: 12.7 million doses delivered to Canada to date, 9.2 million doses administered. There are millions of more doses on the way.

The announcement with Pfizer today that we will be making sure that a million doses of Pfizer per week in April, and 2 million in May, and 12 million over five weeks in the month of June are coming because of the contract that we announced today. And so we’re doing whatever we can in an extremely competitive global environment, with no domestic production at the current time, to bring in as many vaccines as possible.

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In addition, we have to remember that vaccines are a very, very important part of addressing the pandemic, but other measures such as social distancing, staying at home and isolating, and wearing masks, reducing travel, all of that is also important in terms of addressing the pandemic.

But from a federal government perspective, we will do whatever we can to support the provinces and territories. I know that the pressure that elected officials are under is very intense at the current time and the easy solution is to blame, that’s politics. We can’t do that right now, not when we have been charged with this incredible responsibility.

And in terms of my role, I will keep on bringing on vaccines into this country and distributing to the Public Health Agency of Canada, for distribution to the provinces and territories.

Mercedes Stephenson: You mentioned the Pfizer vaccine, you didn’t mention Moderna. Moderna has become highly unreliable for Canada. These doses are getting moved all over the place, they’re being delayed and that is affecting the vaccine supply. But, you know, we can look back and talk about the fact that there wasn’t domestic producing capacity that the government always seemed satisfied with their production even when things are not performing at the level that they had predicted. But we have to look forward now because that’s the only way that we have out of this.

Is your government prepared to meet Doug Ford’s request to send more vaccines to Ontario? Because I know so far the system has been distributing on a per capita basis, but the Canadian Medical Association, doctors, and now Doug Ford are saying we need to start redirecting vaccines to hot spots. Are you prepared to do that?

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Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: The decision that has been made already is of course, to distribute vaccines on a per capita basis and I will say that the jurisdiction relating to that decision doesn’t fall in the ministry of public services and procurement that I oversee. This is a decision that the Public Health Agency of Canada would be having jurisdiction over. And so I’m sure that they are considering all options at the current time. We are all very concerned about the rising case numbers across the country.

Mercedes Stephenson: I understand they have jurisdiction, but as elected officials who are leading the country, you do have the ability to direct. Is it time for the federal government to step up on this and make a decision about where those vaccines should be going?

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: Believe me, we are in constant discussion about the procurement of vaccines and the distribution of vaccines, and we are supporting the provinces and territories in every way we can. We will continue to do that and continue to make sure that we are responding in the best way that we possibly can, to the requests that are coming forward.

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Ford has also asked for the federal government to basically tighten up international borders. He is tightening interprovincial travel. Is that something that Ottawa needs to be stepping in on? Are you prepared to start tightening the number of people coming into Canada and to start stepping in when it comes to interprovincial travel to limit the spread?

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: Well, as you may know, we do have some of the tightest restrictions relating to international travel in the world, including a 14-day quarantine. And so it is very important for us as a federal government, to maintain those restrictions while these case counts are rising, and I know that our government really believes strongly in ensuring that those restrictions are in place.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is the federal cabinet considering the Emergencies Act at this point with how serious things are getting?

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: It is a good question. I am a member of the COVID committee and we will be meeting this weekend and I’m sure over the next—early next week, to consider all options.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, thank you so much for your time today. Please stay safe and well.

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: Thank you so much, Mercedes, you too.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the Conservative climate plan. I’ll ask Erin O’Toole about his party’s pitch, to put a price on carbon.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole unveiled his party’s long-awaited plan to tackle climate change, last week.

After years of slamming the Liberal carbon tax, the Conservatives are now promising to put their own price on carbon, complete with a rewards program that Canadians would pay into. It’s a savings account and whenever you buy carbon-based fuel, well then those savings go towards green purchases of your choice. The Conservatives insist their plan isn’t a tax, but of course, you might feel differently at the gas pump.

So why the change of heart on carbon pricing, and to talk more about the pandemic, the Conservative leader is here now, Erin O’Toole. Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. O’Toole.

What changed your mind? Your party spent years arguing that we didn’t need a carbon tax that they don’t work, they’re not effective. And now you’ve essentially introduced just that.

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: Well we’re going to end Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax. What we’re suggesting is a totally different approach that allows us to meet our Paris commitments, Mercedes. As leader, I said that we were going to have an innovative plan to do that and it does involve pricing of carbon for consumers. But with the low carbon savings account, it’s not a tax because you have it. It is transferred into the savings account related to the charge on hydrocarbons. People will then be able to know their carbon footprint, they’ll be able to make decisions to lower it and purchase decisions to actually lower their footprint over time, whether it with their home, whether with saving towards and EV, a whole range of things. So it’s an innovative way, and what I’m proud of is our modeling shows that we will meet the emission reductions of Mr. Trudeau’s rising carbon tax, but we will have much stronger jobs and economic growth.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’m a little confused on how you can say this isn’t a tax because you’re making people pay for something which is typically a syntax, whether it’s carbon or alcohol or tobacco, and you’re giving them their money back but actually in a less conservative way than the government. Because right now, when you pay into the carbon tax under the Trudeau government, you get the money back directly as a rebate. You’re actually directing where people can spend this so I’m sort of fascinated by this approach and how you can logically argue that this is not, in fact, a tax.

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: Well you’ve demonstrated, Mercedes, a miscon—misunderstanding of the Liberals’ plan. They do not rebate you back what you’ve paid. In fact, they don’t even rebate back the entire collection of his carbon tax.

Mercedes Stephenson: But you do get a rebate.

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: They rebate back 90 per cent. You do get some. They’ve actually refused consistently, to release actual what they take from people, what they think a suburban commuter might pay in a carbon tax. They refuse to do this because theirs is actually a redistribution scheme. It’s not about transparency and reducing emissions. Ours is. It is a price. It’s less, less than 30 per cent the price Mr. Trudeau will be charging, and it meets the same emission targets, more options for small business, farmers who are left out of Mr. Trudeau’s approach. So, it’s very, very much focused on getting people working and growing our economy and not being as uncompetitive as Mr. Trudeau’s rising tax.

Mercedes Stephenson: But whether it’s, it’s you or the Liberals, you’re both saying we’re going to make you pay more for carbon to discourage that behaviour, which to most people is going to feel like a tax.

But I want to move on and talk to you about the pandemic because we’ve seen some really drastic numbers, and you’re talking about jobs. People are worried about surviving. They’re worried about surviving economically. They’re worried about their health. The variants are striking younger and younger Canadians. Former leader of the Conservative Party, Stephen Harper, came out and said that this pandemic has really increased the chasm between those who are very wealthy and those who are very poor. We’re expecting the federal budget tomorrow, the first one in two years. A lot of people are saying it’s going to be transformational. It’s going to address holes in the social safety net. Whether you’re a Conservative or a Liberal, it seems like there’s agreement that the pandemic has exposed cracks. How would you get Canadians out of this moving forward?

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Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: Well we need a government that is focused, Mercedes. Mr. Trudeau has been slow throughout the entire pandemic, and this third wave is, is so severe for Canada, especially my province of Ontario, because of his failure on vaccines. You look at the U.S., you look at the U.K.—they’re not going to have the same risks with the variants. So Mr. Trudeau being so far behind the developed world is going to mean more challenges that the provinces have to make decisions because they simply didn’t have the vaccines they needed in January and February. So, I’m someone that had experience in uniform in the private sector, I get things done. I don’t just make announcements…

Mercedes Stephenson: So Mr. O’Toole, how would you get that done then? What is—what is your plan?

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: It’s called the Canada Recovery Plan, Mercedes. I launched it about a month ago at our convention. It has five pillars to get people working, to build back trust in institutions like the Canadian Armed Forces and government. It has a plan for a national mental health and wellness strategy, a Secure our Country Plan to have domestic vaccine capacity. And the fifth plan is we have to get the budget back under control over the course of the next 10 years. Mr. Trudeau has spent half a trillion dollars and now wants to reimagine the entire economy, and he’s tripling the carbon tax and will raise it even further. Canadians should be very worried. They’re looking at potentially taxes on home sales, raising personal taxes, all to keep up with this crazy out-of-control spending. We have to have a plan to help people but get it under control over the next 10 years. That’s our recovery plan, and we need a serious ethical government again

Mercedes Stephenson: If Justin Trudeau is doing so badly, and certainly there’s lots of room for criticism of the government’s performance on the pandemic file, why is that you have not been able to capture that vote? Because whether it’s within your own caucus where people are unhappy or when we look at the polling numbers, you’re just not getting traction. Do you think that that’s about you? Do you think that’s about your policies? Do you think that this is a time when people are looking for left leaning policies? Why is this happening?

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: We are in the same position in the polls that I was several months ago, Mercedes, and the simple issue is Canadians are focused on the pandemic. They want to see vaccines in arms. They want to see life get back to normal. I do, too. I would never have let our country fail like Mr. Trudeau has. He has failed consistently from the beginning of this pla—pandemic, right through to us being at the back of the developed world on vaccine rollout.

When Canadians see that they’ll have a serious leader, whose growing the Conservative Party, who has a serious plan on climate change but can get people back to work in all sectors and all regions of the country, the most important poll will be on Election Day, after we’ve traversed the pandemic.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Thanks for joining us.

Erin O’Toole, Official Opposition Leader: Thank you, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the faces of COVID-19 patients are changing: younger, essential workers and sicker; my interview with Toronto palliative care doctor, Naheed Dosani.


Mercedes Stephenson: The COVID-19 pandemic has reached a crisis point in this country. The Canadian Medical Association is calling for extraordinary measures to be taken, to beat back this latest wave of the virus. Hospitals and ICUs across the country are stretched to the limit and health care workers are burning out. How did things get this bad? And what needs to happen to get Canada’s pandemic response back on track?

Joining me now is Dr. Naheed Dosani. Thank you so much for joining us, doctor. You’re a palliative care doctor. You’re also a health justice advocate. As a palliative care doctor, you are treating people, patients who are dying of COVID-19. What is that like?

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Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician: You know, what we’re seeing with COVID-19, is a changing face of what we’ve been used to for this pandemic. People who are coming into the hospital and getting sick are younger. They tend to be essential workers. They’re often healthy before they had COVID-19 and they’re being admitted to the ICU, they’re staying longer in the ICU and they’re often dying. And what people in Ontario and across Canada really have to realize, is that the face of this pandemic has changed. We are facing a dire circumstance and we are truly about to face a humanitarian crisis, where people may not get access to the kind of health care they’re used, the kind of health care we often take for granted. It’s quite worrisome.

Mercedes Stephenson: Dr. Dosani, how did we end up in the situation that we’re in? I mean, you find politicians, both federal and provincial, kind of say we’re moving as best we can, we’re going with it. No one wants to point a finger, but Canadians are getting really frustrated and angry and asking why are we finding ourselves in the situation that we are a year into this pandemic? This is what people were telling us was going to happen last April and instead, it’s happening this April.

Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician: It’s a very fair question, especially from the lessons that we’ve learned from wave one and wave two. If you ask many frontline health workers, we’re in this situation because of a lack of government action around public health interventions that keep—that would have kept people safe and would have ultimately saved lives. This is includes, you know, public health restrictions, lockdowns, and the kind of interventions that really should have happened much ease—earlier. We had the information. The experts and scientists were telling the government much earlier to act and they didn’t. But it’s also the fact that we didn’t invest in people. We didn’t support our essential workers with the kinds of upstream social policies like paid sick leave, supporting essential workers with PPE and N95s, and also ensuring that people get paid time off for vaccination. This is in the context of an inequitable rollout around vaccines in Ontario where the hardest hit communities have lacked access structurally and what’s led—what that’s created is a perfect storm and we’re in the middle of that storm now.

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean it’s time to perhaps take vaccines from areas that are not as badly affected and start funnelling it in to essential workers or the hardest hit areas like Toronto?

Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician: Yeah. If you look at the numbers, what you’re seeing is that we’ve basically created a system, where the people who’ve been least impacted by COVID-19 are the most vaccinated. So what we need to do is reallocate vaccines to hot spots urgently, but it also speaks to supporting some of the structural factors that are creating barriers in accessing vaccines to begin with. There’s a lot of talk about vaccine hesitancy in racialized communities, but as someone who actually does a lot of town halls and public engagement, I’ve seen a lot of vaccine confidence. It’s not that people are hesitant to get the vaccine. It’s actually that they structurally lack access. So we need to support mobile programs. We need to take vaccines to people’s workplaces. We need to support policies that give people paid time off to vaccinate and that’s the only way that we’ll actually get there. We are in the eye of the storm and we’re seeing vaccine clinics like in Scarborough, being shut down, when we actually have supply in the province. It’s just not making sense and urgent action is needed.

Mercedes Stephenson: There are a lot of doctors who are saying at this point in the pandemic things are so out of control that vaccines are no longer the answer alone. It can’t stop the wave that’s happening now and crashing over us. Do you agree with that?

Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician: Yes, it’s important to go back to first principles and review the fact that vaccines were really never meant to support us through this wave anyway. This was for the future so that we could start to build immunity in people, in community and start to get out of this pandemic.

But in this wave, what was always going to help us was public health interventions and restrictions, closing non-essential work, supporting workers with PPE and N95s, and supporting the kind of lockdown that would bring case counts lower so we could get to that next likely wave that we probably will now see. So it’s important for the public to realize that vaccine rollout is important to talk about, but right now we’re dealing with a hospital and ICU crisis, where there’s a lot of talk about increasing beds, but we don’t even have the staff necessarily to actually work those beds. A bed is a bed, you still need nurses and staff to work them, and this is where interprovincial connections and relationships and a national kind of strategy is required to get us through this next period.

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Mercedes Stephenson: And I know that I was speaking to a military source who was telling me that they were looking to the military, potentially, to provide critical care nurses. They only have about 70-some odd critical care nurses. That’s not that many. So are we now looking at a point where they might start having to funnel resources from outside provinces that are hard hit into those provinces in order to be able to look after all the patients? Are we going to be seeing field hospitals being set up? How bad is this?

Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician: You know we’re already seeing field hospitals set up in certain areas of Ontario and for good reason because we’re going to need them. But if we don’t have the staff to support those beds, we’re going to be in worse trouble. And you’re absolutely right, if the military’s is not able to provide the kind of nursing staff we need, we’re going to have to look to other provinces and across the country for the kind of help and support that we need. This is why the Ontario government needs to work with the federal government and there needs to be an interprovincial strategy to align health resources and human resources for beside staff, to make this work. We’re already getting calls and notices about, you know, requests for nurses and physicians who don’t normally work in critical care environments, to go and work in those environments, that re-deployment. And that’s really, a tell-tale sign of what we’re dealing with. This is a human catastrophe in the making.

Mercedes Stephenson: Very, very disturbing and concerning. Thank you so much for joining us, doctor. We know you’re very busy caring for your patients so we appreciate your time.

Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative Care Physician: Thank you so much for having me on, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: And that’s all the time that we have for today. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and I’ll see you back here next Sunday.

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