Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will give its consent and vote in favour of the motion introduced by the leader of the official opposition because we believe that accountability is key in any issue. We believe that Quebec and the provinces, which will have to manage the distribution and administration of vaccines, require more specific information. The minister cannot claim that all the necessary specific information is available, since the people responsible for these issues in Quebec have been expressing a certain amount of dismay about the lack of information on a daily basis.
The government has a strong tendency toward denial. For example, when we ask the government questions about health transfers, the Prime Minister tends to respond, with unsettling obstinacy, that it is working hand in hand with the provinces, which are certainly not saying the same thing. Some provinces, civil society, Quebec's National Assembly and Parliament, as we heard yesterday, are saying that there is a problem with the health transfers, but the Prime Minister stubbornly says that everything is fine and that he is working hand in hand with people with whom he has no constructive contact.
For example, when we mention the French language in institutions under federal jurisdiction, he stands up and says loudly and clearly how much he loves the French language, while the facts, the behaviours, the delays, and the white papers conveniently pushing any action to after a future election clearly show his obstinate refusal to take any action at all in favour of the French language.
When we ask when the vaccine will be available, we are given one or more explanations that do not always make sense. The people have the right to decide whether or not they find the answer valid. The media have the right to question the validity of the answer. The official opposition and the Bloc Québécois also have the right to ask these questions, because it is our job, and because we hear the stakeholders who will have to manage the administration of the vaccine saying that they do not have the information they need.
Before publicly improving a situation and saying that it will do better, the government has to admit something. The government has to say that it would have liked to get the vaccine at the same time as everybody else, but that it did not succeed in getting it at the same time as everybody else, and then explain why it did not succeed in getting it at the same time as everyone else. Then, it needs to say what it is going to do to get it as soon as possible after everyone else gets it first.
There is something very basic about this admission, because it is not a partisan stunt. It is a process for getting out of an unprecedented health crisis that costs dozens of lives and affects thousands more every day. How can we take such an important matter lightly?
The admission is crucial. Our political issues notwithstanding, I think that the population of Quebec and Canada would not react so badly. They would say that it is unfortunate, and that the government could have done better, and then they would ask what it is going to do now. Quebeckers and Canadians would react better than they will when, in the coming days, they start seeing people in the United Kingdom get the vaccine, then people in the United States, Germany and India, while they are still watching the press briefings of the Premier of Quebec and Dr. Arruda telling them how many new cases there are, what they will not be allowed to do at Christmas and, unfortunately, how many more people have died.
The comparison will be hard to ignore, and the government will not emerge triumphant under full sail in the glory and enthusiasm of its great success. It will become obvious that it should have admitted its failure sooner.
We understand that the matter is going to be stretched out until next weekend, because then the government will not have to account for its actions in Parliament until the end of January, hoping that its faults, errors and bad deals will go unnoticed.
The delay is by no means trivial. In Quebec alone, we are talking about 1,000 to 1,500 new cases and several deaths a day. The government needs to admit its mistake in order to make amends and mitigate the negative effects of its false discourse.
I suppose that the government is negotiating in private with vaccine manufacturers to try to shorten the delay. It should be negotiating, but not in private. However, it said something rather astonishing: it does not want to reveal how much it paid for the vaccines it has purchased so far because that could hinder its negotiations for future purchases.
That concerns me. Why does it not want to tell us how much it paid? How could that hinder future negotiations, unless it overpaid? If it overpaid because it had no bargaining power, any future supplier will want the same amount the other company got. I will get back to this. This will have an adverse impact on the government's bargaining power.
There are things like this that we do not know about. The government could have done any number of things, not to control the result, since people all over the world were waiting, but to improve the chances that we would achieve the desired result. Since we do not know exactly what was done, we are obliged to fill in the blanks, just like the media, commentators and analysts are doing.
The government had options. One was to manufacture the vaccines here in Canada, which would have been dependent on a number of variables. We understand that it wanted to upgrade a production facility at a cost of over $40 million. Delays have now built up, and that will not happen before next summer. We understand that another facility can be used to produce RNA vaccines, a relatively new technology, but that that will also have to wait, this time until July. Could the government have acted sooner or managed the production facility option differently?
It could also have obtained patent licensing; in other words, it could have negotiated with the patent holders to pay a royalty to get the authorization to manufacture, replicate or copy patented technology. This principle also applies to industry and the arts. Some countries procured patent licences to produce vaccines. Canada did not. If it had, it would probably have been better able to speed up the process.
It could also have produced vaccines without a licence. Producing vaccines without a patent licence may not be entirely appropriate, but it was an option under the emergency measures adopted in March, one which lapsed at the end of September. The government did not bother to extend these measures and retain Canada's right to manufacture what it needed to protect and save lives. It could have made subsequent arrangements with the patent holders. It gave itself the right to do it once, then waived that right.
That would have been a success factor for several reasons, not the least of which was that it would have given the government some negotiating leverage. When the government negotiated with the various manufacturers, it could have told them that, if it was not happy with the agreement, it would still manufacture the vaccine. That would have been quite conceivable.
Although the government will not answer our questions, it is our duty to make these assumptions. If the government had told the various manufacturers that it was going to manufacture the vaccine no matter what, the manufacturers would undoubtedly have been more accommodating when it came to the delivery date. However, the government did not use the leverage it once gave itself, having decided to forgo that leverage in September.
It could also have synchronized its own approval process with that of the countries producing the vaccines. I understand that Canada has certain powers to ensure the safety of products used in Canada, but the Canadian process is relatively long, not to say very long or even too long.
In this case, in an unprecedented emergency, could the government not have decided to make an exception and to synchronize our approval with what was happening elsewhere in order to proceed at the same time as everyone else, at least in terms of authorization?
None of these measures would have provided a certain or absolute solution to the problem, but each of them would have improved the likelihood of more rapid delivery and administration of the vaccine, which is the government's fundamental responsibility.
When the government talks about 400 million doses, we see that it is just a political smoke show. We understand that the number of doses we will get in the first quarter of 2021, based on current guarantees, is probably not enough to cover the base, meaning, of course, those mostly likely to die or to spread the disease. I presume that negotiations are once again under way to accelerate delivery and obtain a larger supply of vaccine.
I also understand that pharmaceutical companies in Canada are not very excited—or would not have been very excited—about the government forcing them to produce a vaccine created by a competitor. I understand that, but does that justify a delay in treating Quebeckers and Canadians for a disease that is too often fatal? Probably not. However, these companies want to keep their facilities for themselves because they think they too will be able to develop a vaccine.
Is the government capitulating? I am asking the question; I do not know if it is. It is a good question, and we are here to ask questions. Did the government acquiesce to pharmaceutical companies in Quebec and Canada that did not want to make their facilities available to their competitors, even though they are in a better position than pretty much anyone else to retool their equipment? There is no way of knowing when that would have happened, but now we know it can never happen because it has not started. Did the government go along with what they wanted? Claims of having done the right thing will soon be revealed as mere pretense because people will notice that some people are being vaccinated and others, here, are not.
As with health transfers, there are also significant economic impacts. The provinces and Quebec need some flexibility to contribute to their own economic recovery. For example, the hundreds of millions of dollars in health transfers required are hundreds of millions of dollars that Quebec is using to invest in its economic recovery.
In this case, we are talking about workers. There are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of workers employed by hotels, restaurants and the industrial sector. There are also teachers and mental health care workers. There are many factors that influence the economy directly or indirectly.
I want to remind members that every unemployed worker represents an expense for the government. Every time we make it possible for a worker to return to work, it represents tax revenue for the government. Yesterday, I called that a four-point game. You take someone out of the expense column and put them in the revenue column. That is not neutral, it is better than neutral. A delay of six, eight or twelve weeks in obtaining the vaccine will delay the return to work and the economic recovery. That is a consequence that is all the more serious when we have a government that says, “to hell with expenses”.
Of course, this is just the beginning. The post-COVID-19 mass distribution and pre-election budget will be presented in March. There is something rather irresponsible about willfully ignoring the economic issues.
I think the Prime Minister is in a state of denial. This obstinacy is harmful, just as it is when it comes to health transfers. Everyone is against him: the Quebec National Assembly, all the premiers across Canada, the Premier of Quebec, the Quebec finance minister and civil society in general. Polls have even shown that the public shares this point of view. However, the Prime Minister continues to say that he is working hand in hand with people who are looking at that hand and saying they want nothing to do with it.
This is pure denial and we can also see it when the topic of French comes up. I mentioned this earlier. The Prime Minister likes to talk about how much his government loves the French language. We might have believed him at first, but very little has actually been done. I much prefer to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that he has changed his mind on this issue, after having voted in the past against applying the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated businesses. I personally have no problem with that and welcome his change of heart. However, when someone scoffs at us, in a sense, when they say they love us but their actions suggest otherwise, that smacks of denial.
As for the vaccine delays, this denial is detrimental to people's health, and the Prime Minister's responses are appalling.
Again, as with health transfers, we have to keep up the pressure to prevent this from becoming a partisan spectacle of 20-second sound bites on the news. If Parliament, if the other legislative assemblies and if civil society put enough pressure on the Liberals they will realize that this will hurt them the only place that seems to matter to them: the pre-election polls.
All of us together have the power to put pressure and use good arguments to make the Prime Minister and his government realize that they have to do better and be accountable for their actions. They have to take much more decisive action and get the vaccine delivered sooner. They have to provide predictability to patients, people who fear for their life, the families of those people, those who want to return to school in person, and those who want to return to work in person. They also have to give a sense of security. They will not achieve any of these things by being in denial and sooner or later that will become clear.
I offer the government my collaboration and I am sure that everyone in Parliament will do the same. I invite the government to be transparent, clear, lucid and compassionate and vote in favour of the Conservatives' motion. Then we all might make progress together on a real strategy for getting out of this crisis.