The Commons: Picking up the crisis where we left it - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Picking up the crisis where we left it

Turns out, what the health minister was saying is that they’d “try” to get all Canadians vaccinated by Christmas

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The Scene. So where were we? Ah yes, that global pandemic.

“Mr. Speaker, the last time the House sat, the Minister of Health claimed that every Canadian who wanted the H1N1 vaccine would receive it before Christmas,” Carolyn Bennett recapped. “Now, she is saying that the rollout will take up to 12 more weeks and run well into next February.”

So it is for the Health Minister. If not for her having to periodically stand and state things as fact, her critics would likely have little to complain about.

“Why,” asked Ms. Bennett, “did the minister mislead the House and why did she not tell Canadians the truth?”

The Prime Minister, the Transport Minister and the Industry Minister were all away this day, so Leona Aglukkaq was offered the chance here to answer the question herself.

“Mr. Speaker, again, we have said all along that we would try and complete the vaccination program by December,” she said.

Her use of the term “try” was perhaps notable, at least in so much as it was not employed two weeks ago when the Minister told the House that, “every Canadian who wants the vaccine will be able to receive the vaccine by Christmas.”

But close enough.

“In fact,” she continued, “we were early in the rollout of our campaign across the country. I want to acknowledge all the hard work of the front line people who are doing a fantastic job in getting the immunizations out to Canadians. By the end of this week, we will have over 10.4 million vaccines in provinces and territories.”

Back up came Ms. Bennett, now pumping her left fist on each word. “Mr. Speaker, in order to stop the pandemic in its tracks, health experts tell us that 60% to 70% of Canadians need to be immunized. The sooner we reach this goal, the more unnecessary deaths and illnesses will be prevented,” she said. “Will the government abide by the will of Parliament and finally give the provinces, territories and local public health units the money and resources they need to quickly and effectively administer the vaccine?”

Ms. Aglukkaq arose with large numbers. “Mr. Speaker, this year, in the 2009-10 budget, we transferred $24 billion to the provinces and territories under the Canada Health Act. That is the highest amount ever transferred to the provinces,” she declared. “In addition to that, we invested $1 billion to develop a pandemic plan. In addition to that, we also purchased 50.4 million vaccines for every single Canadian who wants and needs it.”

Across the way, Ralph Goodale loudly objected. From the government side of the aisle, Chuck Strahl loudly objected to Mr. Goodale’s objection. But with Ms. Bennett up a third time, the Conservative members mostly minded their manners.

“Mr. Speaker, public health units are being forced to spend their very scarce resources on translating and re-translating messages for ethnic communities without a penny of assistance from the federal government—the Liberal critic enjoying a sort of untouchable status since last month’s unpleasantness.

“Will the government,” she asked, “commit the money and resources for accurate translation to ensure that all Canadians are receiving accurate public health information on H1N1?”

Ms. Aglukkaq opted to answer a question that had not quite been asked. “Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the provinces, territories and health authorities, who are doing a very good job in delivering the program. If the member did her research, she would see on the local websites that there are about over 20 languages in Ontario alone,” she chided. “In most jurisdictions, based on their populations, they have translated the materials to the populations they serve. In my territory, they are in Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, English and French. In the Northwest Territories, they are in another language. In Ontario, there are about 19. If she did her research, she would see that provinces and territories are doing a great job in getting the message out.”

So there. The Conservatives stood to cheer her effort.

It was then Marlene Jennings’ turn to repeat Ms. Bennett’s points en francais and in a slightly more accusatory tone. Ms. Aglukkaq refused to yield.

“We were early in the rollout of the vaccine,” she insisted.

Mr. Goodale loudly scoffed. Ms. Jennings raised the spectre of communism.

“Mr. Speaker, it was seven weeks behind China, but it was an early rollout?” she wondered. “I do not think so.”

Perhaps then we should all move to China. There, if nothing else, the facts are more easily discernible, or at least less easily refuted.

The Stats. The environment, 11 questions. Ethics, six questions. H1N1, five questions. Immigration, three questions. Omar Khadr, taxation, telecommunications, arctic sovereignty and medical isotopes, two questions each. Lobbyists, trade, the military, health care and nuclear waste, one question each.

Leona Aglukkaq and Pierre Poilievre, six answers each. Peter MacKay and Lisa Raitt, five answers each. Mark Warawa, four answers. Jason Kenney, three answers. Christian Paradis, Vic Toews, Ted Menzies, Mike Lake and Chuck Strahl, two answers each. Gerald Keddy, one answer.