A reporter was unlucky sufficient to ask Anita Anand how MPs are purported to know whether or not the federal government’s getting worth for cash on its COVID-19-related procurement.
This was greater than Anand, who’s the minister of public providers and procurement, may take. “I discover the phrase ‘worth for cash’ actually fairly fascinating,” she stated. “What’s on the desk right here is the lives of Canadians.”
The event was a information convention within the more and more precariously named Sir John A. Macdonald Constructing, the place Anand and Treasury Board president Jean-Yves Duclos have been explaining their issues with the most recent opposition movement.
The movement, which is in 28 components and asks for every little thing the federal government ever did, thought, questioned or hoped in regard to COVID-19, would ward off authorities contractors, together with potential suppliers of an eventual vaccine, the ministers stated. This story sums up Anand’s arguments. They’ve a lot benefit, as do different criticisms of the movement from exterior observers not broadly identified to be within the Liberals’ pocket. I’ll be getting again to the movement and its critics shortly.
And but I need to pause for a second to think about the excellence Anand drew—distinction? Open antagonism—between “worth for cash” and “the lives of Canadians.”
It strikes me as important as a result of Anand and Duclos had simply spent 40 minutes assuring everybody that, whereas now’s a awful time to hunt what the opposition is searching for, full accounting is on its means. I assume I’m undecided why I ought to anticipate that full accounting, if the accountable minister plainly believes the price of any accounting is human lives.
“The worth,” Anand stated indignantly, “is the safety of Canadian lives that we’re guaranteeing happens…. These procurements didn’t occur in a single day. They weren’t simple. It was an extremely troublesome summer season”—her tone was rising, her voice changing into extra strained—”and we managed to come back via it with procurements for Canadians. It hurts my coronary heart to suppose that they won’t be realized.”
As proof of the federal government’s good religion, Anand supplied a web page on her division’s web site detailing $6 billion of emergency-related procurement so far. There’s a whole lot of info on the web page, and likewise a lot that’s lacking.
For causes that make sense to me—together with the necessity to shield suppliers’ info in a globally aggressive marketplace for ventilators and private protecting tools—41 corporations’ names are hidden, as are the values of a few dozen contracts. So we don’t know something about “Firm F,” which received $144 million for nitrile gloves. Or “Firm Y,” which received $173 million for H95 respirators. Generally the hidden names and the protected contract values intersect, so we truly don’t know the way a lot cash “Firm P” received for respirators. On high of not figuring out who Firm P is. However any person received cash for one thing.
The argument in opposition to demanding extra info now’s coming, not solely from Anita Anand and Jean-Yves Duclos, however from outsiders who’re nonetheless in a position to attract a distinction between the nationwide curiosity and the Liberal curiosity. David Naylor, for example. The previous U of T president has written huge coverage experiences for Stephen Harper’s authorities and for Justin Trudeau’s, and he argued over the weekend that the opposition movement would divert wanted assets and scare off skittish corporations. And David Fisman, the epidemiologist, whose Twitter rant you may learn for your self.
What we’re heading towards, then, is an irreconcilable distinction between authorities and opposition. The Liberals imagine they need to decide which info to disclose and which to withhold. The opposition, led by the Conservatives—well being critic Michelle Rempel Garner moved the movement at hand, seconded by the social gathering’s new chief Erin O’Toole—want, in Naylor’s vibrant time period, to dredge the harbour.
The Liberals have spent 5 years energetically making the case, via their actions, that they need to not be trusted with a monopoly on info. WE and SNC-Lavalin and the Aga Khan trip and Morneau’s Chateaus and Safaris and the transformation of the device shed at Harrington Lake right into a Fortress of Solitude have been all issues this authorities hoped you wouldn’t discover. It is a authorities that simply fired its finance minister for ethics violations, in spite of everything, and never as a result of the Prime Minister discovered them unacceptable on their face, however as a result of he discovered they too carefully resembled his personal. So spare us the sanctimony after we surprise how every little thing’s going.
That being stated, Rempel Garner and O’Toole are managing, on this occasion, to be much less useful than the Liberals. Rempel Garner’s movement is a farce. Take one other look. It requires the Well being Committee to check each possible facet of the COVID response, “together with, however not restricted to,” fast testing; vaccine growth and distribution; federal public well being pointers “and the info getting used to tell them;” long-term care; the GPHIN early-warning system; protocols for travellers; “the adequacy of well being switch funds to the provinces;” emergency stockpiles, the COVID Alert smartphone app, contact tracing, and increasingly more. It’s a panoramic listing however it’s not even exhaustive: the “together with, however not restricted to” wording signifies that anything that pops into any member’s thoughts or inbox may very well be added at any time.
How shall this committee undertake its work? By calling on six authorities workplaces to offer “all memoranda, emails, paperwork, notes and different data” on “plans, preparations, approvals and buying of COVID-19 testing merchandise together with assessments, reagents, swabs, laboratory tools and different materials.” That’s simply one in every of seven wide-scale fishing expeditions listed within the movement. All requiring large deployment of presidency assets. All with probably zero utility even to the movement’s said function, as a result of if this committee sat till Doomsday it might not be capable of look at or talk about the thousandth a part of the haystack this movement would order up.
Rempel Garner spent a while this weekend congratulating herself for doubling the time the movement would allot for manufacturing of this mountain vary of paperwork. As an alternative of giving the federal government two weeks, she’s now happy to present them a month. This gesture of farcical magnanimity is finest understood as a form of efficiency artwork. It’s like suggesting that any person shove a Buick up his nostril—however anticipating to be congratulated for giving him an additional two weeks to do it.
Taken alone, every paragraph of the handfuls on this movement can be debatable and should have benefit. Taken alone, every of the handfuls of matters is fascinating. Claiming to need to look at all of them, suddenly, in the identical venue, is proof of dangerous religion. That Rempel Garner imagines a military of functionaries may feasibly pack up 1000’s of packing containers with the related “memoranda, emails paperwork, notes and different data” and drop them off on the digital workplaces of a committee that’s assembly by Zoom; or that the committee’s members may feasibly digest that info earlier than Rempel Garner reaches retirement age; or that the committee may get even half-way via a dialogue of that info earlier than the solar goes nova and burns the earth to a cinder; suggests an creativeness unbounded by any real-world constraint.
That Erin O’Toole seconded Rempel Garner’s movement casts related doubt on the brand new Conservative chief’s personal judgment. That the opposite opposition events have hitched their wagons to this Macy’s parade of a movement helps to elucidate why the Liberals rebound so well within the polls after every of their missteps: as a result of an election isn’t a referendum on the incumbent however a alternative amongst options, and if not one of the options may even faux to be critical then voters will merely ship everybody again to their earlier spots on the gameboard.
So the place are we? We’re in a repair. On one hand, a authorities that’s shocked on the information that anybody would imagine it able to doing the kind of issues it does on a regular basis. On the opposite, an opposition that advertises its incorrigible frivolousness with its grandest gestures. The remainder of us not less than have the luxurious of ignoring them. They’re caught with each other. However not for for much longer. In the end, and earlier than I’d have anticipated even a number of weeks in the past, they’ll be again on the marketing campaign path, demanding that we settle their variations for them.