Friday afternoons are made for two things: pretending to care about your colleague’s weekend plans and, if you’re the government, releasing problematic news that you hope will be forgotten by Monday morning. In the political world, it’s called a Friday news dump, and the Trudeau Liberals could host a MasterClass on it. After six years in power, we’ve come to expect it from a government that says one thing and does another.
This time is different. This time it’s not about which members of the Trudeau family were paid to appear at WE events. This time, it’s about the health of Canadians during the pandemic and what the government did, or didn’t do, to ensure their safety. Friday’s move was just the latest in a history of political maneuvers by the Liberals designed to keep Canadians in the dark. What are the Liberals hiding this time?
After months of posturing, in October 2020, the opposition passed a motion ordering the government to release a variety of COVID-related documents to the Health Committee by no later than December 7, 2020. Six months late and heavily redacted, those documents were finally released last Friday. What’s more, they were released with less than two weeks to go before the House breaks for summer, all but ensuring no inquiry can take form.
NDP MP Don Davies published the redacted documents on his website Friday evening, giving Canadians the chance to review them for themselves. In the mire of contractual language and jargon, what’s most striking is not what’s in the contracts, but rather what was removed before they were made public. Notably missing from the contracts with AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna are the sections on pricing and delivery schedule—the very issues the Liberals have grandstanded about for months.
For a government supposedly concerned about price gouging, it would seem that sharing the negotiated cost of a life-saving vaccine would be something to trumpet. Line upon line of redaction would suggest, however, that the Liberals don’t want Canadians to know what we paid for these vaccines. Why? Because it highlights the government’s lack of action on pandemic profiteering, the power that the pharmaceutical giants have over them, and makes it impossible to know if we paid a premium or not.
Canadians saw delay after delay during the vaccine rollout, with every level of government pointing the finger at one another, and then at suppliers. During an interview with CBC’s As It Happens, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand stated that the vaccine contracts specified quarterly delivery times. She even went so far as to say the government was “surprised and… disappointed when the vaccine manufacturers revised the estimate that they provided to us on a week-to-week basis.” Canadians should also be disappointed, but with this government’s refusal to be open and transparent about the deals it makes with the private sector.
We all remember the Liberals promising 366,000 Pfizer doses would be delivered each week in February. If the expectations were only ever a quarterly delivery, as Minister Anand claims, then why was the government making commitments it had no control over? They either knowingly misled Canadians or they were protecting corporate interests at the expense of Canadians’ health and safety—both are unacceptable.
Canadians are used to their governments breaking promises, but this is different. This time, the Liberals are hiding information in contracts directly related to our health and well-being during a once-in-a-century global crisis. How much did the pharmaceutical giants charge us for life-saving vaccines? What were the delivery expectations? Who failed us? How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again? These are all questions that Canadians deserve answers to, particularly those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.
The Trudeau government will have its own answers to these questions, designed to solidify its brand and preempt any debate. Releasing the contracts in their full form is the only way Canadians will ever know the truth. By releasing redacted versions on a Friday afternoon with less than two weeks before the House breaks for summer, the Liberals have all but ensured that the truth stays buried.
Rodger Moran is a veteran political and labour organizer in Canada, Founding Member of the Democratic Socialists of Canada, and Co-Host of the political podcast New Left Radio, Follow him on Twitter @itsrodgermoran.