MPs to vote on investigation into federal COVID-19 response

October 26, 2020
Sunday Scrum: A snap election averted

MPs will vote today on a motion put forward by the Conservatives to set up a sweeping investigation by the House of Commons health committee into the federal government’s COVID-19 response.

The motion is expected to pass with support from the NDP and Bloc Québécois despite public concerns raised by a variety of industry groups, companies and other experts that such a wide-ranging investigation could hamper the civil service as it manages the response to the pandemic’s second wave.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos will address some of those concerns, including what they see as risks related to document disclosures, at a news conference at 9:30 a.m. ET. CBC News will carry it live.

If passed, the Conservative motion would empower the committee to call several cabinet ministers as witnesses and direct the government to hand over a trove of documents, emails and other records from a handful of departments, including those related to the purchase of personal protective equipment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said the investigation could help parliamentarians learn from the mistakes of the first wave, do a better job of dealing with the ongoing second wave, and prepare for future outbreaks.

Liberals argue the demand for documents is so sweeping that the time it would take to produce them would distract civil servants from their work on the COVID-19 response.

Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 immunity task force, agrees. Naylor told The Canadian Press in an email that the proposed study is too expansive and will ultimately create more work and distractions for the federal public service at a time when it is already working full out.

Last week, a major industry association said releasing confidential documents detailing the federal government’s business deals with suppliers of personal protective equipment and testing devices could hurt Canadian manufacturers and sully Canada’s global business reputation.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Canada is the latest to express concerns about the probe. In a letter to Health Canada, Pfizer says it wants to know how its commercial secrets will be protected.

Opposition parties have insisted there is sufficient protection for industry while accusing the Liberals of stirring fears.

The vote comes one week after the Liberal government survived a confidence vote on a separate Conservative motion that sought a special committee investigation into the WE Charity affair and other alleged examples of corruption.

The government has said today’s vote won’t be considered a matter of confidence.

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