Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and it is windy here from time to time today.
Thank you and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear today and make the case for border communities, not just Windsor but across the country, to gain access to surplus vaccines that have been offered by our neighbours in the United States.
In my community prior to the onset of the pandemic, the border between Windsor and Detroit was much like that between Ottawa and Gatineau, in the shadow of Parliament Hill.
Thousands of health care workers live in my community but cross to work every day in Detroit.
At the onset of the pandemic when Detroit was a hot spot for cases—in fact, among the worst in the United States—Canadian nurses crossed the border each day to support the health care system in southeast Michigan. It's no exaggeration to suggest that without Canadian health care workers, entire hospitals would have closed in Michigan, creating widespread problems. In fact, the United States State Department recognized this invaluable contribution, and the U.S. consul general came to Windsor. He and I handed out thank-you gift cards to doctors, nurses and pharmacists who were crossing at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge.
That was April 2020.
When the vaccines began to be delivered, the City of Windsor stepped up to support all aspects of the process. Hundreds of city staff have been redeployed to support different mass vaccination clinics across Windsor. We set up a special call centre to help ensure the process was smooth and efficient.
It hasn't been without challenges, the largest of which relates to the mismatch between supply and demand.
In the beginning we had 12,000 seniors over 80 years old on our wait-list. Some had waited for six weeks for the phone call to book their first appointment.
I actually booked 180 of these appointments myself. When I called one 86-year-old, she broke down crying on the phone with joy. She hadn't left home for six weeks. She wouldn't even take out her recycling without bringing her phone for fear of missing the call that would set her on a path to, once again, hug her grandkids.
The problem is that the fear and uncertainty she felt in the beginning was only exacerbated after she received her first shot, because we told her to go home and wait for up to four months now for someone else to call and book the second appointment.
Members of the committee, we can and we must do better until everyone has been fully vaccinated. Today, multiple medical officials in Detroit and the State of Michigan have offered to provide us with surplus vaccines, many of which would otherwise expire and be thrown away because vaccine uptake is slowing just two kilometres away in Detroit.
Last week it was reported that the State of Michigan saw 35,000 doses hit the landfill, and I submit to this committee that those were doses that could have gone into the arms of Canadians.
I appreciate there are a host of issues that would need to be resolved in order to make this sort of international inoculation effort possible. I'm not here to minimize or trivialize the effort that's required to make this happen, but I am here to advocate for that effort to be sped up, because it would help get Canadians access to their second doses faster than would otherwise be the case.
The federal government's COVID-19 testing and screening expert advisory panel report released on May 28 specifically highlights that Canadians with only one dose are at a significant public health disadvantage. I appreciate that a pathway exists for Canadians to get fully vaccinated based on the supply procured at the national level, which is allocated to the province, but this process will take months to hit all eligible Canadians. Multiple offers for surplus vaccines have been made to Canadians from U.S. counterparts today.
An urgent dialogue is required with all respective parties on both sides of the border to find a way to make this happen.
Throughout this pandemic, governments at every level have found ways to move mountains to safeguard the health and safety of the public. Policy initiatives which would otherwise have taken years get resolved in a matter of days, and I commit to doing everything and anything in my power to create the conditions for success.
Last week the board of the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel Corporation voted to authorize the closure of the international tunnel for the purpose of hosting a vaccination clinic at the border line below the Detroit River. I established an online wait-list for Windsor-Essex residents who are ready to stand in line for U.S. surplus vaccines. As of today we have over 11,500 Canadians on that list.
Creative solutions have been found at the Carway crossing between Alberta and Montana, and I congratulate everyone involved on both sides of the border for the creativity employed to make the right thing happen there. Surplus vaccines from Montana are getting into the arms of waiting Canadians. I'm asking for that same type of creativity and effort to be [Technical difficulty—Editor] so that we can accomplish our shared binational goal to fully vaccinate our residents so that we can reunite families, reignite our economies, get people back to work, get businesses open, and reopen the world's longest undefended border.
But I need help and leadership from our federal government, and I'm here again asking for that today.
Thank you, and I look forward to the questions and discussions this morning.