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Procurement minister warns of fallout from probe

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 27 Oct, 2020
  • Procurement minister warns of fallout from probe

Canada's procurement minister says federal contracts for personal protective equipment, vaccines and rapid test kits are in jeopardy due to a proposed parliamentary probe of the Trudeau government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The probe could trigger the release of commercially sensitive information, scaring off manufacturers and drug companies that would otherwise do business with Ottawa and ultimately placing Canadians' health at risk, Anita Anand said Monday.

"It's not just a question of violating existing contacts that, for example, may have confidentiality clauses in them; it’s also a question of undermining current negotiations," she said at a news conference.

"This is not the time to threaten and weaken our relationships with our suppliers, on whom Canadians’ health and safety depends."

Opposition parties are poised to approve the probe this afternoon despite growing objections from industry and experts.

A Conservative motion would order the government to turn over to the Commons health committee all records on a raft of issues related to the government's response to the pandemic.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said she was "disappointed" with the government's remarks Monday, calling them "bombastic," "hyperbolic" and "complete garbage."

The sweeping motion, which she penned, addresses issues such as national security, personal privacy and commercial sensitivities tied to vaccines, Rempel Garner said.

She accused the Liberals of trying to go trigger an election, though the government has pledged not to treat the motion as a confidence matter — unlike a similar Conservative motion defeated last week that would have created a committee to look into the WE Charity controversy..

"I don't even know what to say, and that takes a lot," she said.

Pfizer Canada is the latest company to express concerns about probe, asking how the pharmaceutical giant's commercial secrets will be protected.

In a letter to a senior Health Canada official obtained by The Canadian Press, Pfizer Canada president Cole Pinnow says his company has questions about a requirement in the motion that the government produce documents related to the production and purchase of a vaccine for COVID-19.

He goes on to say that while the company is seeking legal advice, it wants to hear from Health Canada what process will be used to vet sensitive information before it is released to the committee.

Anand warned that the House of Commons law clerk "wouldn’t have the necessary expertise in procurement" to properly redact records that would surface through the probe. "And yet the law clerk will be the one making all decisions regarding redaction," she said in French.

Rempel Garner responded that the government was "proactively calling pharmaceutical companies and fearmongering" over the weekend.

The role of the law clerk, who she said the Liberals were "attacking," is precisely to ensure that sensitive information is not released unduly, Rempel Garner said.

The Conservative motion is expected to pass with support from the federal New Democrats and Bloc Québécois, who have insisted there is sufficient protection for industry while accusing the Liberals of stoking fears.

Last week, the NDP and Greens joined the Liberals in opposing the Conservative move to create an anticorruption committee that would have had a broad mandate to examine the WE affair, and almost any other pandemic-related spending, by demanding documents and summoning senior civil servants to testify.

On Monday, New Democrats and Liberals appeared to agree on a different path for the government to turn over documents about the WE controversy. That has stirred up months of turbulence in the House over a now-cancelled agreement for WE Charity to manage a summer volunteering program for students, with a potential budget of up to $912 million.

The two parties voted in favour of an amendment from NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus that narrows a request for Trudeau family speaking records to only those pertaining to the prime minister and his wife.

The motion initially aimed to obtain records from the Speakers' Spotlight agency relating to all appearances for Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie, mother Margaret and brother Alexandre as far back as 2008.

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