Pressure mounts for Trudeau amid calls for a pandemic response inquiry

To date, the Trudeau Liberals have dodged calls for a public inquiry into their pandemic response. 'Canada has only a fragmented, partial picture of what happened to its institutions during the pandemic,” said Jennifer Ditchburn, president and CEO of the Institute for Research on Public Policy’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation.

Pressure mounts for Trudeau amid calls for a pandemic response inquiry
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Pressure against the Trudeau Liberals continues to mount after several agencies called for an expert panel to examine the federal government's pandemic response.

A joint report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation and the Institute on Governance believes a public inquiry into Canada’s pandemic response is in order.

The federal government has yet to establish a commission to review its handling of the pandemic despite multiple attempts to get the ball rolling.

Published March 13, the report Resilient Institutions: Learning from Canada’s COVID-19 Pandemic proposed solutions to “retool and reinvest in the physical and technological infrastructure of the public service that supports public services to Canadians.”

It posed 12 recommendations for to make Canada’s institutions “more resilient for the future,” including streamlined communications between different levels of government.

“Canada has only a fragmented, partial picture of what happened to its institutions during the pandemic,” said IRPP president and CEO Jennifer Ditchburn.  

“We’re recommending that a forward-looking and truly national examination be conducted by an independent panel of experts,” she added.

Last February 8, the House of Commons gave a second reading to Liberal-sponsored Bill C-293, An Act Respecting Pandemic Prevention, pledging to create “an advisory committee” to review the federal pandemic management. 

However, the Commons health committee stalled the proposal on April 20 after MPs rejected the internal review as a poor substitute for a public inquiry. 

"It’s not independent; it is not transparent," said NDP MP Don Davies.

On October 23, the Trudeau Liberals rejected calls for a public inquiry. MPs on the Commons health committee voted against a New Democrat proposal for a judicial inquiry under the Inquiries Act, in favour of a closed-door review by Health Minister advisers.

“We need to have an impartial, independent, public and properly resourced inquiry to undertake this work,” said Davies, urging federal authorities to testify under oath.

“Confidence has been tested and it has been shaken,” he added, emphasizing the need to restore public confidence in government.

Restoring public trust in government institutions is key to learning the best approach to future public health emergencies, says Resilient Institutions.

“The pandemic demonstrated vividly how our public institutions and public servants can be innovative, agile and nimble, but it also exposed core weaknesses that affected government responses and public health outcomes,” said David McLaughlin, president and CEO of the Institute on Governance. 

“We need to learn lessons from the pandemic now, while it’s fresh, and not snap-back to traditional ways of running governments that proved inefficient and outdated,” he added.

The joint report analyzed what worked and didn’t work following a two-day summit last June between “key decision-makers, practitioners and civil society actors” in Ottawa.

Resilient Institutions suggested better explanations were needed when incorporating risk into new policy decisions and informing the public of those decisions.

As of writing, Health Canada has completed 21 audits into the government's pandemic response but refused to disclose those records to the public.

"The pandemic revealed critical weaknesses and gaps in Canada’s emergency preparedness and management posture," said a November 1 memo Ministerial Briefing Volume 1.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada a 'world leader' in emergency management. “Canada is among the best-prepared countries in the world,” he told reporters on March 11, 2020.

Despite the claims, frequent disclosures revealed how federal agencies failed to maintain sufficient medical supplies, including masks. COVID vaccine wastage exceeded $1 billion.

In August, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland championed Canada’s response, despite boasting a higher death rate than other industrialized nations.

Canada's pandemic death rate of 135.2 cases per 100,000 population exceeded New Zealand (53), Japan (58), Taiwan (74), Australia (77), and Norway (96), according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

“Our experience during COVID, which was a tragedy where every single COVID death was a tragedy, of course, we could learn lessons about how to do better,” Freeland told reporters. “But broadly, Canada did pretty well. We did well because we had a real Team Canada approach.”

However, numerous audits faulted Health Canada for having “limited public health expertise,” reported Blacklock's Reporter, having gone through four presidents in 28 months. They concluded the feds lacked a “clear understanding” of compiling critical data.

The Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association and Canadian Public Health Association criticized the federal agency for how it responded to the pandemic.

“We were caught flat-footed,” Dr. Sandy Buchman, then-president of the Canadian Medical Association, testified at a 2020 hearing of the Commons health committee.

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