Was the worldwide vaccine race inevitable?
This week brought with it some welcome news — sort of, with caveats — on the vaccine front. But the rise of vaccine nationalism and the threat of export controls raises the question: Did it have to be like this?
Welcome to Corridors. I’m your host, Maura Forrest. In today’s edition: how the global vaccine race could have been prevented, and how Steven Guilbeault is gearing up for battle. Get in touch: [email protected]
GLOBAL COMPETITION — The Liberals were in need of some good headlines on the vaccine rollout, and they sort of got them on Tuesday. Ottawa has signed an MOU with Novavax to produce its Covid-19 vaccine in Canada, provided it gets approval. The deal is good news, given Canada’s complete dependence on foreign suppliers to date. Thing is, it won’t actually bear fruit until the end of the year, well past the September deadline the government has given itself for getting anyone vaccinated who wants to be.
And then there was news that the European Commission has authorized a vaccine delivery to Canada, and says it will only apply new export controls on Covid-19 vaccines in “very limited cases.” Thing is, a one-time approval doesn’t exactly remove the ongoing threat of our European supply being cut off.
— The upshot is that Canada remains at the mercy of pharmaceutical companies that have scaled back their deliveries and foreign governments that will inevitably put their own interests first. But some say there was another way all this could have played out, if only rich nations like Canada had been interested. Marc-André Gagnon, a political science professor at Carleton University, says governments could have created a global fund to buy patents and ensure the vaccines could be manufactured widely, at lower cost, instead of by a handful of companies in a few countries.
— Others say drug companies should have donated their intellectual property voluntarily. Dr. Joel Lexchin, professor emeritus at the school of health policy and management at York University, told Corridors: “Canada couldn’t do this on its own, but Canada could have promoted these ideas in a very public way.”.
— Humanitarian Stephen Lewis made a similar argument Monday on CTV’s Power Play, claiming that suspending patents and allowing vaccines to be produced generically would benefit low-income countries — and Canada, too. “There should never have been patents accorded for these vaccines,” he said.
— A nice idea, maybe, but it’s the kind of thing that’s easier said than done. “It’s very difficult to build bargaining power with drug companies if you piss them off by leading a global initiative about opening patents,” Gagnon said. In reality, South Africa and India have recently called on the World Trade Organization to suspend intellectual property rights so that developing countries can access Covid-19 vaccines. The pharmaceutical industry and wealthy nations, including Canada, are decidedly not on board.
— For more: The Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark argues the Novavax deal shows Canada “has come belatedly to the realization that we are pretty much on our own for vaccines.”
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Who’s up: Newfoundland Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie
Politicians don’t tend to do self-deprecating humor (or humor, full stop) all that well, but we’ll give Crosbie full marks for this campaign ad featuring equalization, the Atlantic Accord and a long-suffering daughter.
Who’s down: Canadian embassy in China
Hands up if you had “Wu-Tang Clan gets embroiled in Canada-China diplomatic freeze” on your 2021 bingo card. No? Us neither.
Got someone to nominate? Email me at [email protected].
Corridors is a new weekly newsletter for MPs, lobbyists, executives, activists and any readers who are interested in what’s going on around Parliament Hill. Every Wednesday we will look at the people pulling the levers of power in Ottawa and the questions that are influencing decisions on Parliament Hill and in the provinces. Join the conversation! You can email us at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]
SCOOP — Former chief of defense staff Gen. Jonathan Vance is “facing allegations of inappropriate behavior with two female subordinates,” according to this bombshell story from Mercedes Stephenson and colleagues at Global News that broke Tuesday evening. The story describes an “alleged years-long consensual relationship” between Vance and a woman he “significantly outranked,” as well as an unwanted sexual comment allegedly made to a junior soldier. Vance became chief of defense staff in 2015 in the wake of a scathing report that found the culture of the Canadian military was hostile to women. He retired last month.
FLIGHT PLAN — We still don’t know when Ottawa’s latest travel restrictions will come into force. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra recently said returning travelers could be forced to quarantine in hotels for three days at a cost of C$2,000 starting as early as tomorrow. But on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said only to expect the new measures “in the weeks to come” — likely before spring break.
— Rules and exceptions: Ottawa is apparently considering exemptions to its new and improved travel restrictions, according to Radio-Canada’s Louis Blouin, including for temporary foreign workers. The Bloc Québécois is calling for the mandatory hotel quarantine to be waived for people traveling for humanitarian reasons, including family reunification and medical treatment. Asked about this on Tuesday, however, Trudeau said there might be “rare exceptions,” but in general, “the rules are there for everyone to follow.”
— Out of luck: While it’s unclear who might be exempted, we have a pretty good idea who won’t be. Snowbirds in Florida and elsewhere have been kicking up a fuss, including some who say they’ve already been vaccinated in the U.S. and shouldn’t be made to pay thousands on rules that weren’t in place when they left Canada. During question period on Monday, Alghabra dashed their hopes, saying it’s still unclear whether the vaccine prevents Covid-19 transmission. Presumably, the optics of letting folks off the hook because they set sail for sunnier climes and got vaccinated months before everyone else would also … not be great.
— Except: Ottawa has no immediate plans to apply the three-day hotel quarantine to Canadians returning across the Canada-U.S. land border, the CBC’s Sophia Harris reports. On Monday, Alghabra told CBC’s As It Happens the government is considering further restrictions at the border.
— Survey says: A Léger poll shows overwhelming support for the restrictions, and most respondents would be happy to see the government ban international travel outright. For now, Canadian flights to Mexico and the Caribbean have been canceled until April 30. But for those with cash to burn who are still determined to head south on vacation, the Canadian Press’s Jon Victor points out they can still book flights with American air carriers, raising fresh concerns about the impact this will have on Canadian airlines. Over at Le Devoir, Hélène Buzzetti reports that Ottawa is aiming to shut that option down as well.
— Feedback: The Toronto Star’s editorial board concluded the restrictions are “far from as tight as they could be.” Here’s a handy explainer of the new rules from the Globe and Mail.
TERROR LIST — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair will announce new additions to Canada’s list of terrorist organizations today, according to the CBC’s Catharine Tunney. The government has been under pressure to add the Proud Boys to the list following the Capitol Hill riot in January.
TIME CRUNCH — The Liberals’ assisted-dying bill is back before the Senate, which seems as unlikely as ever to rubber-stamp it. The Liberals are hoping to get Bill C-7 passed before a Feb. 26 court deadline. The problem is some senators think the bill devalues the lives of people with disabilities by allowing medical assistance in dying for those whose deaths aren’t reasonably foreseeable. Others think it doesn’t go far enough, in part because it excludes people suffering exclusively from mental illness.
— According to the Canadian Press: Both sides seem to agree the law needs to be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada, and may propose an amendment to that effect.
THE CRUSADER — Steven Guilbeault seems poised to become one of the most embattled ministers in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. By his own account, the heritage minister is soon to have three major bills before Parliament, and none is a walk in the park. Changes to the Broadcasting Act to force streaming services like Netflix to pay for Canadian content were introduced in November, but the Conservatives recently challenged Guilbeault to prove how the bill will raise C$830-million a year for CanCon, as the Liberals have promised.
— Next up is a highly anticipated bill to regulate hateful content on social media, which seems destined to ring free-speech alarm bells. Guilbeault recently told The Logic’s Martin Patriquin the proposed legislation would create a new regulator with the power to order social media platforms to take down unacceptable content within 24 hours and to levy fines against companies that don’t comply. That 24-hour piece is noteworthy: it’s modeled after a recent German law, but a Canadian think tank last week explicitly recommended against such time constraints, since they could “create incentives for over-censorship.”
— And then there’s to be a third bill that will force Facebook and Google to pay news publishers for content, which Guilbeault says is coming this spring. Guilbeault told Patriquin he’s looking to similar legislation under consideration in Australia, which has prompted the social-media giants to threaten to pull services from the country. On Friday, Kevin Chan, global director and head of public policy for Facebook Canada, told a parliamentary committee the Australian model isn’t workable. Whether or not Guilbeault is actually spoiling for a fight, it seems he’s got one — or several — coming his way.
— Under pressure: Guilbeault has said the new social media regulations will also apply to websites that post illegal pornographic content. Meanwhile, MindGeek executives Feras Antoon and David Tassillo will appear before the parliamentary ethics committee on Friday. The company, founded in Montreal, operates major porn sites including Pornhub and has been under fire since a New York Times columnist wrote in December that Pornhub makes money off videos of child sexual abuse and non-consensual sex.
Human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby says removing hate from social media platforms would protect the freedoms of those most often targeted there. | Courtesy of Amira Elghawaby
Guilbeault recently told La Presse’s Mélanie Marquis that his bid to regulate social media platforms has already made him a target — on social media. But it’s not just Twitter trolls who are worried about how — or if — the Liberals will strike the right balance between cracking down on illegal and hateful online content and protecting freedom of expression. This week, Corridors asked how the Liberals can best avoid being accused of censorship.
Vivek Krishnamurthy, law professor at the University of Ottawa: The problem, I think, is less around legal versus illegal content. … Most of the problems we face are on things that are legal, but are harmful. Misinformation and disinformation is for the most part completely legal.
I think there are going to be some easy cases of things that are clearly illegal… but there’s this enormous grey zone. And that’s where a 24-hour mandate is not a good idea, because it is going to incentivize the over-removal of things that are protected under Canadian and international law.
As a rights-respecting democracy, it behooves Canada to get this right. … Because what we do is going to be held up by other countries as an example of what they can do. So I think this government, when they’re passing a law, should say, “What would happen if the Pakistanis or the Indonesians or Zimbabwe or Venezuela took a similar approach in their country? Would we be comfortable with that?”
Amira Elghawaby, human rights advocate: Just as our freedoms are not absolute, there must be limits placed on these platforms to assure the safety of all who use them. The Liberals need only to point out that removing hate speech will protect the freedom of expression of those most often targeted — women, BIPOC and other marginalized people and ensure they continue to safely participate in the virtual public square.
Furthermore, such limits on hate speech help preserve social cohesion. A majority of Canadians support regulation that would ensure racist and hateful content is rapidly removed and that those producing such content be held accountable. All of which is way overdue.
PMO photographer Alex Tétreault shares more than 150 photos from a year consumed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
What challenges and opportunities does the Biden presidency present for Canada? POLITICO’s Luiza Ch. Savage compares notes with Colin Robertson, Sarah Goldfeder and Laurie Trautman on The Global Exchange podcast.
POLITICO’s First 100 Days is also tracking President Joe Biden. Follow along.
New York Times tech reporter Kashmir Hill tells the story of Guy Babcock and the power of a single person to destroy a reputation aided by platforms like Google. Spoiler alert: Includes Canadian content.
CBC Alberta’s Jennifer Kenne chronicled Jason Kenney’s “very long year” on the latest episode of the House, which also featured an exit interview with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
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— Canada to produce domestic vaccines, though not in time to help in current campaign
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— EU holds fire on vaccine export blocks in sign of détente
Congratulations to Alyson Fair and Michael Read, who were first to guess that Saudi Arabia was the first foreign country Donald Trump visited as president.
Here’s this week’s question:
February is Black History Month. Who was Canada’s first Black member of Parliament?
Email [email protected] with your answers — or with trivia suggestions!
MP Marci Ien
Anniversaries: On Monday, Liberal MP Marci Ien paid tribute to the Hon. Jean Augustine, who introduced a motion 25 years ago to establish Black History Month in Canada. “I am here, a Black female MP, because Dr. Augustine blazed a trail and her journey was not easy,” Ien told the House. “The challenges continue today.”
Birthdays: Belated wishes to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, now 49 and a day … HBD to Conservative MP Bob Saroya, 69, today. You may also want to ping former co-CEO of Research in Motion Jim Balsillie who is celebrating a Feb. 3 milestone … On Friday, National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier will be 62 while Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie turns 61 … On Feb. 8, Liberal MP Joël Lightbound hits 33 … Speaking of mayors and also of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion will be 100 on Feb. 14.
Movers and shakers: The Independent Senators Group announced the appointment of Murray Sinclair as their Indigenous adviser. Sinclair, who just retired from the Senate, will serve on a voluntary basis. … Ian McCowan has been tapped to lead the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General.
Got a tip, event, birthday, anniversary, new job, or any other suggestion for Corridors? Let me know: [email protected]
With thanks to Editor Sue Allan, Luiza Ch. Savage and Andy Blatchford