Politics Insider

How Canada's CanSino COVID-19 vaccine deal with China collapsed

Politics Insider for Oct. 15, 2021: The made-in-Canada vaccine breakdown; cabinet talk; and a CPC suspension

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The Fifth Estate released an investigation Thursday that shed new light on the Trudeau government’s failed collaboration with a vaccine manufacturing company in China, CanSino, that led to a two-year delay in creating a made-in-Canada COVID-19 vaccine.

Government documents “show that Canadian officials wasted months waiting for a proposed vaccine to arrive from China for further testing and spent millions upgrading a production facility that never made a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine.”

The reporting shows that Canada’s plan appears to have been stymied by Chinese political interference related to the Meng Wanzhou case.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the deal to Canadians on May 16, 2020. But a federal government memo later that same month reveals the Canadian Embassy in Beijing was still working to get the vaccine cleared by China’s customs. “CanSino vaccines are still with customs in China,” the memo said. “Embassy has a [meeting] tomorrow. Assuming they get through customs [tomorrow], they can be put on a flight on the 27th.” But the vaccine candidate was not put on a plane on May 27. That same day, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou — a high-profile tech executive in China — lost an appeal to the B.C. Supreme Court arguing against her arrest in Canada. Meng had been detained in Vancouver in 2018 on U.S. bank fraud charges.

Planning continued until August while the Trudeau government kept the difficulties secret. It has never explained what happened and did not help Fifth Estate with its report.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not answer when asked to explain the discrepancy between the promised production numbers and what happened. The prime minister and his ministers also declined interview requests about Canada’s early vaccine production plans, including with the NRC and CanSino. The NRC has said the U.S.-based vaccine developer Novavax will be its new partner for this facility, but Health Canada has not approved its vaccine yet.

The CanSino project was not the only partnership that the NRC was pursuing at the time, Justin Ling reported in Maclean’s earlier this year.

Oct. 25, 26: Trudeau will unveil his new post-election cabinet on Oct. 25 or 26, secret sources told CBC News on Thursday.

Trudeau’s commitment to a gender-balanced cabinet, coupled with his need for new cabinet ministers from Nova Scotia and Alberta, will likely require significant changes to the government’s front bench. The biggest change could come in the defence ministry. Many senior Liberals suggest that Harjit Sajjan will be shuffled to a new portfolio.

Expect gender balance: The Star’s Tonda MacCharles has some knowledgable-sounding speculation about who might end up in Trudeau’s gender-balanced cabinet.

To fill the gender gaps, insiders say Toronto’s Marci Ien, who was re-elected in Toronto Centre after her 2020 byelection entry to Parliament, is expected to be at the top of the list, along with women who have experience in provincial governments. Those could include Lina Metlege Diab, a former provincial cabinet minister from Nova Scotia who is bilingual and a likely replacement for Bernadette Jordan, the fisheries minister who lost her seat; Ottawa-area MP Marie France Lalonde, who held three posts in Ontario as minister for francophone affairs, community safety and correctional services, and government and consumer services; and Markham-Stouffville MP Helena Jaczek, who served as Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care and as minister of community and social services. The latter two were first elected federally in 2019, and have held parliamentary secretary or committee roles and could be up for promotion. Other rookie names floated include Quebec’s Pascale St-Onge who headed a communications union. Trudeau may also take advantage of the opportunity to now do what he wasn’t keen to do before the election: demote cabinet underperformers like Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan or Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

Why so long? At CTV, Don Martin wonders why it is taking so long for Trudeau to get his ducks in a row.

The gap between the election and the cabinet naming in 2015, when Trudeau inherited a caucus of largely untested talent in the aftermath of a shocker majority win, was 17 days. True, it took Trudeau a month to move the boxes for the 2019 lineup, but this year will be the longest yet.

PCR rules stand for now: Chrystia Freeland had no news on plans to scrap PCR test requirement as U.S. border nears reopening, Global reported Thursday. “The rules are the rules,” she said in DC. “Canadians do need a valid PCR test to go back to Canada. I had my test done to go home this afternoon. I really believe that when it comes to finishing the fight against COVID, the Canadian approach, which has been to follow science, to follow the recommendations of public health authorities, and to err on the side of caution has served us really, really well.”

Chen suspended: The national council of the Conservative Party suspended councillor Bert Chen for two months for launching a petition to dump Erin O’Toole, the Hill Times reported Thursday.

“Following complaints by grassroots members of the Conservative Party of Canada about the conduct of national councillor Bert Chen, national council exercised its authority under Article 8.13 of the party’s constitution to suspend Mr. Chen from national council for up to 60 days,” said Conservative Party president Robert Batherson in an emailed statement to The Hill Times. Mr. Chen’s petition, launched a day after the election, had received 5,185 signatures by Oct. 13.

Prairie disaster: In the Globe, Gary Mason angrily points out that Alberta and Saskatchewan have failed to bring the pandemic under control, which is taking a terrible toll.

Mr. Kenney has been under intense criticism for a few months now over his decision-making around the crisis. There have been growing calls for a leadership review within his party. His popularity rating sits at a dismal 22 per cent – the lowest of any provincial leader in the country. The Premier has had to put out a call to the military to help with overburdened hospitals. Patients have been airlifted to hospitals in other provinces. Saskatchewan is in even worse shape. On Thanksgiving Monday, the province’s normal complement of critical care beds were taken up with COVID-19 patients. In the three months since the province reopened, case numbers have shot up 47 per cent. The COVID-19 death rate is 6.62 per 100,000 people – the worst in the country. (Alberta has come in second, at 4.7 per 100,000; Ontario’s rate, by contrast, is 0.67.)

— Stephen Maher