The Commons: ‘Merry Christmas, everybody’

The Health Minister promises a holiday gift of the H1N1 vaccine to one and all


7575020-slideThe Scene. Witness first Bob Rae, master of the indisputable contention.

“Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the federal government has two clear responsibilities,” the Liberal offered after the Speaker called for oral questions. “The first is to ensure a steady and reliable supply of vaccines for H1N1. The second is to provide leadership and information on a coherent pandemic response.”

So far, so good. The House did not rise up unanimously to second Mr. Rae’s assessment, but no one stood to shout him down either.

Then, though, the question. “I would like to ask the government a very simple question,” Mr. Rae finished. “How could it have failed so miserably to execute these two critical responsibilities?”

Well then.

The Health Minister was preoccupied with her Blackberry. In her place stood John Baird, officially the Minister of Transport, but on this day the de facto Minister of Pandemic Influenza, Economic Stimulus, Ethics in Governance and, in the case of some controversy concerning public funds directed to the riding of Tony Clement, Small Town Sidewalks.

“Mr. Speaker, our two primary concerns have been to ensure that we had a safe vaccine and that we have an effective vaccine,” Mr. Baird more or less concurred. “We are pleased to say that six million doses of H1N1 vaccine have been delivered to our partners in the provinces and territories. We will see even more delivered this week. The vaccine is being distributed as quickly as possible and I am very pleased to report that on a per capita basis Canada has more H1N1 vaccine than any country in the world and we will continue to work with our partners.”

The Liberals were not much impressed by this, jeering the Minister’s per capita qualification.

Mr. Rae tried once more, this time en francais. Mr. Baird stood again, opting to stick with English.

“Mr. Speaker, we have seen significant leadership demonstrated by the Minister of Health,” Mr. Baird assured.

“Let her answer!” loudly insisted a voice from the Liberal side.

Mr. Rae had one last go of it. “Mr. Speaker, the minister had an opportunity to tell the House on Friday because he must have been aware that there were significant reduction in supplies to the provinces. He chose not to share that information with the House of Commons on Friday when he was fully aware of it. Those are the facts,” he said. “On the weekend, the Minister of Health was blaming the provinces, she was blaming the drug company. She was taking no responsibility herself for what took place. Why will the government not take responsibility for the files and the issues that are clearly right in front of it? Why will it not take that responsibility?”

Mr. Baird was unmoved. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “let me indicate to the member opposite that I do not accept the premise of his question.”

Over then to Carolyn Bennett, source and subject of so much consternation this past week.

“Mr. Speaker, weeks ago when I spoke with public health officials across the country they said they needed clear information on when the vaccine was coming and how much would come each week,” she said. “They never received that information they needed to plan. Now we have huge lineups at vaccination clinics, clinics short of vaccine, people being turned away, clinics cancelled. Private for-profit clinics are getting the vaccine. Thousands of needy Canadians are not. When is the minister going to take some responsibility for these failures?”

For the most part, Ms. Bennett managed not to fume too obviously and, across the way, the Conservatives generally kept quiet. And here, having finished with whatever was on her Blackberry, the actual Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq stood to speak.

“Mr. Speaker, for the last eight months we have been very transparent in the roll-out of this vaccine and communicated with provinces and territories, including the opposition critics,” she said. “Six million doses were produced ahead of schedule. As soon as they were available and authorized they were transferred to the provinces and territories for their roll-out. We will see thousands more this week and one million more next week. We will continue to transfer them to the provinces and territories and they will be rolling out their vaccine programs by jurisdiction.”

Ms. Aglukkaq had obviously done well to memorize her points of emphasis for the day and she would need them. Indeed, after John Baird had finished with his cameo, the Health Minister was made to take the 11 flu-related questions that followed from all sides, including an impressive hectoring from Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the NDP critic who failed to breath between words and subsequently turned quite red. Amid impatient heckles across the aisle, each opposition MP was suitably dispatched with impressive-sounding numbers and reassurances.

“Thousands will be distributed this week. Millions more will be produced next week,” Ms. Aglukkaq assured at one point. “By Christmas every single Canadian will be able to receive the vaccine.”

“Merry Christmas, everybody!” chirped David McGuinty across the way.

The Stats. H1N1, 14 questions. The environment and infrastructure, four questions. Afghanistan, three questions. Consumer protection, immigration, ethics and pensions, two questions each. The Senate, employment, nuclear energy, fisheries and polar bears, one question each.

Leona Aglukkaq, 11 answers. John Baird, nine answers. Jim Prentice, five answers. Peter MacKay, Ted Menzies, Jason Kenney and Mike Lake, two answers each. Stockwell Day, Steven Fletcher, Ed Komarnicki, Lisa Raitt and Gail Shea, one answer each.


The Commons: ‘Merry Christmas, everybody’

  1. I gotta give major kudos to this lady as she is holding up very well! who would have thought that she would turn out to be stronger and in better shape than Lisa R. (political karma at its best) – I ama zed she or the CPC haven't tried to really punt the isssue back to where the real responsibility lies but then again it shows real class to eat the pain and stay on message and not get sidetracked into a fed-prov war. Like how harper is eating the pain for a lot of provincial areas right now. Few will agree with me until they think about it and have the benefit of the years I have and have seen the feds dump it back to the prov's a lot – but Stevie apparently doesn't like to do that and will eat the poltical pain – maybe why so few of the usual fed prov wars of late that and all the money he is shovelling back .. weird world that's for sure!

    • psiclone, PMO H1N1 communication strategist.

      • Much better strategy than the Bob Rae 'we are all gonna die' parade.

        When all is said and done, give me a government that doesn't try to make political hay of body bags.

    • I will give the kudos to Minister Aglukkaq, since I don't think any minister from any political party could make bacteria(?) in a petri dish grow any faster. I like her style, and am saddened for her that she isn't getting the results such style deserves. This is an incredibly tough file, and she's doing the best any newbie could possibly be expected to do.

      The rest of your post is crap, of course.

  2. I find it particularly vexing listening to virtuous Rae when it his admin that drastically cut the number of doctors and nurses Ontario has to handle this pandemic.

    Why do people believe that bureaucracy operates at 100% efficiency at all times so there must be some kind of conspiracy when it does not achieve peak performance. I think government has done well so far – vaccinating everyone across the country is not at all easy. People complaining about vaccination program to date are being absurd and are more concerned about scare mongering than they are with educating public.

    "Private for-profit clinics are getting the vaccine. Thousands of needy Canadians are not."

    I wish the lesson we learned from this situation was that private clinics work much better than public ones. Instead I am sure it will be about the evil capitalists that need to be stamped on for giving timely service. Everyone has to share in the misery and incompetence!

    • Are you confusing Bob Rae with Mike Harris? HOW long ago was Rae the Premier?

    • You mke good points Jolyon,

      Do Canadians really want to reject the proposal that family doctors in their clinics be the one's gradually taking over responsibility for vaccinations after the first rush is over? Don't family doctors know their patients best?

      Yeah, sure, I guess most Canadians would prefer to drop the family doctor completely and force all Canadians to go to the local hospital emergency room whenever they feel sick. Now that woould really advance health care in this country.

      • Hey, I agree with you for once! I think this "private clinic" nonsense is just that. Because the alternative is having all these people, possibly some with H1N1 already, standing around in our hospitals, where people are already weakened from whatever put them in the hospital in the first place. However, public health department offices might be a better place to serve all the at-risk people, in the short term, than a family doctor's clinic office. But surely, this is a provincial matter? Where people go to get vaccinated, I mean. Surely, the federal government is sending the vaccine to wherever the province tells them to? Please?

        • It is always encouraging to see common ground by people with different perspectives.

          Let me return the complement. I also agree with you. I don't have a problem with public health clinics being set up in an emergency like this, particularly since lots of people don't have a family doctor and it may be more efficient to use the public setting for large scale immunization. However, I just can't understand why others get all excited about also using private doctors' clinics at the same time. There is a knee-jerk reaction to the word "private" in the health care debate in Canada that is not "healthy" if I can use a pun.

          I also welcome your positive comment about Minister Aglukkaq above. I don't believe that the speed of producing the vaccine has anything to do with whether the minister in charge was Liberal or Tory and am sad that the opposition parties have chosen to politicize this aspect of the crisis. There are legitimate complaints that can be made about the handling of the crisis by governments at all levels but this is not one of them. Does anyone truly believe that the Conservatives delayed the production of vaccine on purpose?

  3. when the Health Minister was asked an Olympic-related question on H1N1 and returned just the same talking points without even mentioning the Olympics her schtick seemed a little tired. One could wonder if she was even bothering listening to the questions anymore?

    At this point you might think she would try to seem a least little stronger on her feet, work in some of the question at least but nope. This was her chance to prove Lisa Raitt's taped comments about her wrong. And she is blowing it.

    Is that a shuffle I hear in the hallway?

    • Why would she listen to the questions? Most questions are just accusations.

    • Here is what is supposed to be the 'question',
      Ms Minister should refuse to answer an accusation.

      “How could it have failed so miserably to execute these two critical responsibilities?”

      • if you had actually read my comment, I was referring to the question on the Olympics: "Will the government provide resources to ensure that preparation measures are delivered in time or can Canadians just expect more platitudes from the minister as the Olympic games approach?"

        What a great opportunity for the Health Minister to show she can veer off her talking points. Even by ack. the Olympics. She chose not to.

        I had a lot of respect for this Minister when she was appointed but come on, even hardcore Conservative partisans must admit that she is not winning respect or confidence with her performance.

    • Frankly, Minister Aglukkaq has handled herself extremely well in the Commons. She has not let the vicious attacks rattle her and I think she is emerging as a quiet but competent star in the Cabinet. Good on her. If there is a shuffle I predict a promotion for her.

  4. The Liberals were not much impressed by this, jeering the Minister's per capita qualification.

    Yeah, that Baird and his slippery statistical evasions. Glad to see the scorn being heaped on this mathematical trickery.

    Never mind all that jiggery-pokery Mr. Baird. It says here that China has 50 million doses. Why, for the love of god, don't WE have 50 million doses? Why are Chinese babies more precious than Canadian babies?

    • Uh, didn't we order 50 million doses?

      I don't know about China, but that's what the government said we were ordering.

      • I hope not, Canada's population is 33.5 million.

        Hence my little joke about "per capita" outrage. I'm being too subtle again, it's a curse I've had to endure.

      • We have 53 million doses of the antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu.
        Reports are, 1 million Canadians have already been prescribed the meds.

    • ur dumb

      • That stings bad, brain. From 'liver' or 'kidney' I could shrug it off, from 'spleen' would even expect it, but when it comes from brain… well that really has me chastened.

        • That was perfect. LOL!

    • China has a population of 1,319,175,330 , w/ 50 million doses which = 4% of the population

      Canada has a population of 34 ,000,000 w/ 6 million ALREADY vaccinated = 18% of the pop
      and vaccine available by Christmas for 100% of the population

      • But China started vaccinating much sooner, so may have prevented H1N1 from spreading as much. We have H1N1 spreading before we got the vaccines.

        • China was the first country in the world to develop an H1N1 vaccine, and although it was rushed into production earlier this month it is expected to produce enough serum to vaccinate only about five per cent of the country's 1.3 billion citizens. "Quite frankly the production capacity is not enough," Tan said.

      • I was not being serious, I was making fun of those politicians who jeered at numbers expressed "per capita".

        Some jokes fall flat and others get flattened. That one was entombed.

    • Yes China did start earlier with a different vaccine under different drug approval conditions.

      So yes, Canada made a mistake by not just accepting Chines Drug quality control standards without their own testing. Try putting the choice of chinese vaccine now vs Canadian tested vaccine in 2 weeks in front of Canadians and guess what the response would be?

      Have all of these governments been caught out on the incredible uptake….yes. Remember not one week ago the criticism was that the government had failed to convince Canadians to get the shot…..so what will the criticism be 10 days from now when the clinics are open wide, doctors offices are delivering innoculations and the lines have dropped to next to nil? Any thoughts?

      • I completely agree with you. Spot on about Chinese safety, or lack therof. And it's like we've all forgotten health officials were blue in the face trying to convince Canadians to take this seriously just a few weeks ago.

        Also, there have been a few unfortunate but overly publicized deaths, but despite the early influx of swine flu the worst outcome has been emergency rooms flooded by worried parents, and a bunch of selfish folks trying to get their shots before the priority groups. Beyond that, it's hardly killing us in droves.

        • A postscript.

          According to this news article, only 300,000 odd doses of vaccine had actually been administered in China up to the final week of October. So, I don't think we need to get caught up in a lot of China-envy in any case.

        • A postscript.

          According to this news article, only 300,000 odd doses of vaccine had actually been administered in China up to the final week of October. So, I don't think we need to get caught up in a lot of China-envy in any case.

    • Hedy Fry figured SHE deserves to be infront of the line,
      did Bob Rae get his shot ahead of millions of other needy Canadians……

    • Did Joe Flaherty gedt one from that private clinic? Just wondering.

      • I have no idea, and neither do you.
        but I do know Bob Rae came to Hedy's defence about MPs jumping to the front of the line

    • I repeat. Family doctors are private service providers. There is nothing wrong with family doctors administering vaccinations. Most clinics are simply several family doctors getting together to save money and offer more efficient service. We sholud be opposed to this? Once the rush is over, the alternative will be to have every person in Canada forced to go to local hospital emergency rooms. Why? Please explain why this is good.

      • 'Please explain why keeping family doctors away from their patients is good health care.'

        And why did all the provinces respond the same way?
        Maybe because other illness go on uninterrupted, and the doctors are already stretched.

        maybe the health units wanted complete control, and had extra staff ????

        • My comment was meant to be ironic. I actually agree with both Wilson and Jolyon. My argument is with those who criticize private delivery of health care because they don't seem to realize family doctors are private service providers.

          • Please think carefully about your statement — it makes no sense . Try again TwoYen.

      • You want me to defend policy even though I don't believe it – "Please explain why …. ".

        And make it seem we disagree on other issues that we actually agree on – "There is nothing wrong with family doctors administering vaccinations."

        Well done, you are having argument with yourself.

      • "There is nothing wrong with family doctors administering vaccinations. Most clinics are simply several family doctors getting together to save money and offer more efficient service."

        I mostly agree with what you write, particularly about how GP is better than emerg rooms. You are asking me to explain things I don't believe. I am for private services, I wish there was more of it.

        • See above. My comment was poorly worded. I was not asking you to explain. I was putting the question to those who have knee-jerk reactions criticizing private health delivery.

          There is a very broad consensus in Canada in favour of public universal health insurance. But there also appears to ba a confusion in the minds of many Canadians who seem to believe that because OHIP (or the equivalent in other provinces) pays for visits to their family doctor that the delivery of many of our routine health services is also universally public sector-based. It is not.

  5. p.s. this is the same strategy Libs used with Afghan casualties, and the recession…fear and sadness to score political points.

    • You seemed worked up wilson.

      p.s. fear works wonders…

      "The only way there is going to be a recession is if they're elected, and that's why they're not going to be elected."
      Stephen Harper
      – September 26, 2008

      • "A Liberal government will never put Canada into deficit. Period. We will build a richer Canada by cutting taxes for all Canadian families and businesses, making them more competitive."
        Stephen Dion Sept 22, 2009

        there are about a dozen quotes of the Coalition of Losers proposing to spend a minimum of $30 Billion on stimulus, on December 3/08…..take your pick, Martha, MacCallum, McGuinty, Brison….
        all leading to the deficit EVERY party said they would not go into.

        • 'strue though. Stevie is bearing up remarkably well under the burden of
          less than adequate performance. An inadequate cabinet helps.

          • It says right on the website of our Canadian government, in big blue colours with big happy faces of Conservative MPs handing out cheques, that this is Stephen Harper's government. The last Liberal government to run a deficit was over a decade ago. Nice try wislon to deflect attention from your own poopy pants, tho…

  6. Most Canadians appreciate the enormous task ahead of the government, and judge their conduct in that context, not the hyperpartisan based standards set by a desperate opposition falling in the polls.

    Most Canadians will also be put off by the ghoulish glee with which the Liberal campaign head declared that this was "Harper's Katrina".

    Liberals would be well served to actually formulate policy and actually elect a leader to implement that policy, rather than scurrying around hoping for a tragedy to capitalize on, to vaunt them to power, sans real effort and the tough and delicate task of setting and implementing realistic plans for Canadians.

  7. I can play the blame game,
    Provinces were notified of which Canadians are high risk and should get the shot FIRST.

    September 16, 2009
    For Immediate Release

    Government of Canada Issues Guidance on H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Sequencing

    (OTTAWA) – Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, today issued guidance for provinces and territories on H1N1 vaccine sequencing.

    “Canadians should know that we will have enough vaccine for everyone who needs and wants to be immunized,” said Dr. Butler-Jones.
    “Our focus in the coming weeks and months is to ensure that those who need it most get it first.”

    The guidance identifies groups and individuals that will benefit most from immunization, and those who care for them. These include:
    … (read )

  8. To any THINKING person (I know, but please, bear with me), it strikes as bizarre that an EARLIER delivery of a portion of the order should be some sort of failure.

    To any THINKING person (ibid.), a province's decision to distribute some of its allotment to private clinics with paying customers says zilch about the federal health minister.

    I have seen Minister Aglukkaq speak in person, once, and I felt sorry for someone who seemed hesitant and out of her league in front of a very large crowd. But I have been nothing but impressed by how she is handling this public health issue. Not enough to necessarily vote Tory next time, but impressed nonetheless.

  9. Just fire Aglukkaq, she's the minister responsible and she is not up to the task! In fact I'm so sick of her talking points she's becoming as annoying as a mosquito. It was HER job and her entire cabinet to figure out ONE SUPPLIER wasn't going to cut it. So basic, so moronic!

  10. Presents, properly understood, are first earned by the giver through productive work. The giver does something productive, gets voluntarily paid for it, and buys the present. Government don't generally engage in productive activity and thus are rarely paid voluntarily. Instead, they mostly forceably redistribute wealth. Thus, it's a misnomer to imply, as the exchange in Parliament does, that the government's promise of vaccines to all by Christmas is a Christmas "present".

    • That was an ironic heckle from the opposition. Nothing more.

      • Worse. It was a moronic comment from a backbench MP who doesn't seem to realize his own brother (who is the Premier of Ontario) is the one who has bungled things.

  11. Looks like all the Liberal supporters are posting today! If the Libs were in charge the situation would be the SAME!!! Liberals are so desperate for power they are probably hoping that people die just to push their cause! Liberal useless and they are useless all the time!

    • You have failed to explain how this justifies the current government's handling of the situation.

      Stay classy, Joe.

  12. Since no one else has gone after Wherry on this one and Kady is not around to keep us all in line on Parliamentary procedure, I guess I'll have to do it.

    The reason Rusty (MInister of Everything) Baird answered Bob Rae's question had nothing to do with whether Minister Aglukkaq was preoccupied on her Blackberry (as Wherry suggested). it was because he was today's designated hitter replacing the PM for the lead off questions by party leaders or their reps. You'll note that Minister Aglukkaq took the questions asked by non party leaders (or reps). Yes, I know it's confusing. Kady was good at explaining it. Wherry just looks for the cheap shot.

    • so we are supposed to feel better that she isn't top tier enough to be the PM's designated hitter?

      • She is a rookie minister. It is unlikely the PM would ask a rookie to respond to questions across a range of subjects. The leaders of the other parties asked questions unrelated to the Health file.

  13. And yet with all of the mudslinging(cheques, wafers, vaccine) the Liberals continue their steep descent into political oblivion, soon to be called "da turd' or perhaps "da fart pardi", Don'tnolo hasn't got a chance to turn anything around when all he has to work with are a bunch of deranged lunatics such as Hedy Fry, Carolyn Bennett and Professor Puffin.

    The Bloc Toronois Champaigne Sipping Socialist Elites have the bilge pumps running the wrong way, filling a sinking ship with more and more water, yet they are way too arrogant to see the folly of their ways. Looks good on them…………………..

  14. I like the Minister. She's a good at memorizing.

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