The News Rundown
- B.C. opened its phone lines Monday to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for some of the most elderly residents in the province. In this past week's vaccine phase, appointments were only available to those who are 90+ and Indigenous people who are 65+, which accounts for 82,000 people, some of which would have already got the vaccines from care homes and hospitals, or from First Nations in rural areas.
- But not long after call centres opened at 7 a.m., reports came in suggesting lines were jammed. During a morning news conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix said about 1.7 million calls were received before 10 a.m.
- "I very much appreciate the enthusiasm of everybody calling in, but I would ask that people allow those who are eligible this week to book appointments, to have priority. Obviously that is a massive number of phone calls. If that were to continue, obviously no phone system would respond to that."
- Dix added that for those who aren't eligible or who aren't calling on behalf of those who are, "this is not the time to call in."
- The ministry says only 369 bookings were made in Vancouver Coastal, and officials pledged to work with that health authority to get those bookings “back on track.”
- The Health Ministry confirms just under 15,000 appointments were booked on the first day. Only Fraser Health (which covers Vancouver's suburbs) offered an online option for booking appointments and 8,722 were made there.
- The website dedicated to booking appointments in the Fraser Health region appeared to not work for a few minutes at a time in the morning, struggling under the strain of massive amounts of people looking for information.
- Meanwhile the Interior and Vancouver Island health authorities each recorded just under 2,500 bookings and residents in the north made just over 1,000.
- The government had contracted with Telus for the rollout, and Health Minister Adrian Dix called out Telus for their botched Day 1 rollout, and says that he expects them to live up to the terms of the contract to get the job done.
- Telus had no backup call centre service from Vancouver Coastal as the other four health regions have, and Dix promised to “hold them accountable” for their performance.
- “That contractor, Telus, failed us yesterday,” Dix said March 9, adding that the government’s main phone contractor has given assurances it will meet its obligations.
- Telus CEO Darren Entwistle issued a statement Tuesday apologizing for the first-day performance, adding that by Tuesday afternoon it will have 250 agents taking calls, with hundreds more to come as the vaccine program ramps up.
- Entwhistle: “We know how crucial the vaccine rollout is for British Columbia, and we are incredibly sorry for the frustrations that British Columbians have experienced trying to connect to the call centres. We can and will do better, and we are working diligently to make this right.”
- Anyone who has ever done business with Telus could have said that there would be long waits for customer service.
- Dix said all five health authorities expect to have online booking in place by April, when the larger groups in the lower age groups become eligible. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the online system is an urgent priority.
- Henry said: “I think we need to be aware that there is quite a large project in terms of developing a seamless online and phone system for April. Obviously we wanted it to be ready for weeks ago, but it does take time to get those things together. Fraser Health is the only health authority that had that type of an online booking system that was robust enough at this point.”
- British Columbia's premier and health minister refused to directly answer questions Wednesday about the government's contract with Telus, the provider whose call centres for COVID-19 vaccine appointments got off to a chaotic start.
- The Opposition BC Liberals repeatedly asked Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix during question period to release the contract and to provide basic information including its monetary value and the number of staff promised to the centres.
- Both Horgan and Dix did not provide specifics, but instead repeated earlier remarks that Monday was a "bad day,'' when Vancouver Coastal Health was only able to book 369 appointments, but that steps have been taken to improve the situation.
- "People have bad days all the time. I'm fairly confident that Wayne Gretzky didn't score in every game he played in, but he kept getting on the ice and doing the best he could. That's exactly what we did in Vancouver Coastal Health."
- Telus has said it was asked to provide 156 agents to answer calls at all times across the province, and it increased that number to 250 by Tuesday afternoon.
- The Opposition BC Liberals said only 33 call-takers were originally assigned to Vancouver Coastal — the second-largest authority in the province.
- The BC Liberals asked why the government thought it would be an adequate level of staff as well as who signed the contract and when.
- Renee Merrifield, the BC Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Mission elected last fall, called on the premier to take full responsibility for the "botched" rollout of the system.
- Horgan said: "I fully appreciate that accountability ends with me. If that doesn't meet the bar set by the newly minted member for Kelowna, I apologize to her as well."
- Meanwhile, there have been two COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes, one in Kelowna and one in Surrey. Most residents and staff were vaccinated in both facilities, which experts say is a reminder of the limits of immunization. It is unknown which vaccines were distributed at each facility.
- At the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, where 11 residents and two staff members tested positive despite 82 per cent of residents being immunized.
- BC has recovered their day 1 call centre debacle, and has now opened up the next cohort of vaccine appointments for people 85+ yesterday, 4 days ahead of schedule. The 85 to 89 age group means another 75,000 B.C. residents are now eligible for vaccine appointments.
- At the same time, Alberta is already opening up appointments to people over the age of 65+, and those aged 50-64 who want the AstraZeneca vaccine can apply as well. BC's slow rollout is a disgrace even when compared to other provinces in Canada, and the media giving them a pass by shifting the blame solely to Telus is awful. We should expect more from our governments, especially on such a serious issue.
- Extraordinary times often bring out the best in people, organizations, and ultimately stretch our capacity to think creatively.
- The big problem that Canada as a whole faced was that we have no vaccine manufacturing capacity for the products that ultimately proved successful in their clinical trials.
- For this, the province of Alberta is asking for proposals to build our own vaccine manufacturing industry.
- Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation said in an interview that if promising projects emerge from the process, the government could help pay for the program.
- The goal comes down to ensuring that there’s a domestic supply of vaccines and other pharmaceuticals to keep Albertans healthy and safe which ultimately keeps the economy open.
- Applications will be open for 10 days and even though there’s no specifics as of yet in terms of what the process will look like, the province has set aside $1.25b in pandemic related spending.
- Minister Schweitzer sees the problem as not one of whether or not variants of the disease will require booster shots but there are continuing benefits to vaccine production.
- He rightly says that we could see another pandemic in our lifetime and this is part of making sure that we’re ready for it.
- There’s already research going on across the province into vaccines, such as the Li Ka Shing Institute at the University of Alberta and Providence Therapeutics, a biotechnology firm out of Calgary, as well as Northern RNA, another Calgary company working on vaccine products.
- The Minister also said that, “Alberta has the building blocks to actually build out a legitimate, credible pharmaceutical industry and vaccine development industry, all the way from development to production.”
- Federally last year the government chose to partner with existing companies rather than take an approach to build out a Canada-wide pharmaceutical industry.
- Alberta is of course looking out for its own interests but in doing so is also looking out for the interests of Canada as a whole.
- This should have been the response of all levels of government last year.
- We should have seen a rapid mobilization to seek out leading prospects in the pharmaceutical field, aid them in getting established, and help them build out their facilities.
- The same could have also been applied for personal protective equipment but instead we were forced to rely on the United States which was apparently in peril due to the former Trump administration.
- Put simply now is the time for thinking out of the box, realizing that no problem is too big to solve, and the only thing missing in most cases is an honest attempt.
- Instead we’re relegated to cutting corners and spacing out doses of our vaccines in what has been described by scientists as a “population level experiment.”
- The issue has gained some prominence since we discussed it last week with more scientists raising alarm and Health Shadow Minister Michelle Rempel Garner raising the issue.
- The pandemic should be seen as an opportunity for a new way of thinking, something which most governments and organizations have been reluctant to embrace.
- We’re starting to see a shift in Alberta that hopefully continues and is hopefully mirrored throughout the rest of the country.
- Most days we talk about problems and absurdities but this is a good news story that should be gaining national media attention and inspiring others to take action.
- Only time will tell if a pharmaceutical industry prospers in Alberta, but the least we can do is try and think differently.
- News out of China suggests that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the 2 Canadians detained in China as a result of China's heavy handed hostage diplomacy over the Meng Wanzhou charges, will likely have their trials soon.
- In an article published in the Global Times, an English-language paper that effectively functions as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, a source “close to the matter” is cited saying that the two Canadians have “already been prosecuted.”
- The article says: “Another source close to the matter told the Global Times previously that due to the COVID-19 epidemic situation, the hearings for both cases have yet to commence, and the court will push forward the trial soon.”
- Kovrig and Spavor have both been accused of espionage, a crime that is punishable in China by life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 10 years. Chinese courts, which are not independent from the government, boast a 99.99 per cent conviction rate, meaning that once a trial is commenced, the odds are not in the two detained Canadians’ favour.
- However, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told Global News that despite the reports from the Global Times, they had not been informed of any change in the timeline of the looming trials: “We are not aware of any set timeline for the trials. To date, Global Affairs Canada has not been notified of court hearings for Mr. Kovrig or Mr. Spavor. Global Affairs Canada continues to monitor these cases closely.”
- Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group, which has been closely monitoring developments in his case, also echoed what Global Affairs had said.
- “We have no knowledge of this,” wrote the group’s head of communications, Karim Lebhour, in an email. He went on to pledge a follow-up should any official developments occur.
- Following a meeting with Trudeau in late February, U.S. President Joe Biden said the two countries are working together to try to secure the release of the two detained Canadians.
- Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said he is confident a contract with a company owned by the Beijing police adequately protects personal information of people applying to Canada for visas.
- Canada has since 2008 contracted the Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company, to run visa processing services for people seeking to visit Canada. The company is run by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.
- Mendicino insisted the government is closely monitoring the company with regular audits and security screening of all employees who work there: “We are eyes wide open on this issue and we will continue to manage these risks going forward.”
- At the House of Commons immigration committee on Wednesday, Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan asked Mendicino if the government was even considering the massive risk of espionage. He said simply screening staff isn’t sufficient in a country like China.
- Singh Hallan said: “The Chinese Communist Party develops a fake identity with an attempt to infiltrate our overseas visa office, via espionage and collect visa applications and then runs them through the hiring process for the subcontractor. How would we even know about it? Even one Chinese spy could destroy the entire functioning of the office and cause a significant security threat.”
- NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she doesn’t understand why the government can’t see the problem: “The truth is the entire structure stinks and this is a huge conflict of interest for the safety of applicants,” she said.
- Time and time again we see stories like this one pop up and we have to question if our federal government is really doing enough to ensure our safety from China.
- The Canadian Military’s top leads of General Jonathan Vance and Admiral Art MacDonald have come under increasing scrutiny for the workplace environment they created due to the allegations of sexual misconduct they both face.
- In regards to General Jonathan Vance, two weeks ago Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan testified that he was “surprised” to learn about the allegations about Vance in the media reporting.
- Documents obtained by Global News show that the ministry wanted to “put some things in writing” and they had drafted a letter on March 2, 2018 saying that Sajjan knew nothing about the allegations.
- Gary Walbourne, former military ombudsman, says that the allegations regarding Vance were brought up at a March 1, 2018 meeting with Sajjan, and he tried to show the Minister the evidence but he did not want to see the evidence.
- The same appears to be true for the Prime Minister who confirmed this week that he also knew at least some of what was going on in 2018 but only learned of the details through the media.
- Both the Conservatives and NDP opposition see this as a cover up and are wondering why the government did not act when they claim to be a government that protects women.
- In recent years the number of reported sexual misconducts among members of the Canadian Forces has jumped by 39%.
- For incidents in 2018-19 the action taken in response was listed but the response for actions in 2019-20 were not listed only saying, “results not available.”
- In response to this, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said that they would look into why the report did not include the actions taken in response.
- This is another case of the government saying something is not true only to have it proven true later. This time, however, it didn’t take months of investigation, it took days.
- This is also another senior government minister embroiled in a scandal.
- Despite what our constitution or government arrangement is for the running of the military, the person ultimately responsible is the elected official.
- Vance should have been set aside in 2018 when Sajjan and Trudeau learnt about the allegations.
- Vance for not stepping aside, Sajjan and Trudeau for not bringing these allegations forward and firing Vance have only diminished the representation of our armed forces.
- It gets worse when you realize that Trudeau who claims to be a feminist looked the other way and the entire government, as a whole, sets a double standard.
- This double standard has been brewing since 2015 and has been on display time and time again.
- In reality, Sajjan should be replaced as Minister of Defence, but that’s unlikely to happen since it appears as though this behaviour was endorsed by the Prime Minister and his office.
- Justin Trudeau has said that he knew that there was a complaint to the defence ombudsman but only became aware of the details recently.
- So while it appears as though Trudeau knew, the question is how much did he know.
- And that’s the thing, the Prime Minister’s Office has engineered this situation so that the Prime Minister knew maybe just a tiny bit of what was going on, but not enough that he’d have to step in.
- While anything relating to the government is ultimately the Prime Minister’s responsibility, he’s crafted a situation where Defence Minister Sajjan would be the fall guy if this went public.
- Sajjan could’ve stopped this in 2018, Trudeau could’ve asked more questions to his minister, but neither did.
- This is all very elaborate and shows a level of cunning craftfulness that doesn’t exist in the opposition parties.
- This is why Justin Trudeau and his government has been able to weather scandal after scandal, as they’re called by the opposition, and why it takes such a long time for information about the shady activities of this government to come out.
- We have a media that examines this government but only at the surface level, if they went deeper maybe the government would be compelled to be more honest.
- Or perhaps not since all a government or any politician needs today for success is to control the media cycle and narrative. Which Trudeau and company do quite effectively.
Word of the Week
Mobilization - the action of organizing and encouraging a group of people to take action in pursuit of a particular objective
Quote of the Week
"People have bad days all the time. I'm fairly confident that Wayne Gretzky didn't score in every game he played in, but he kept getting on the ice and doing the best he could. That's exactly what we did in Vancouver Coastal Health." - BC Premier John Horgan on the botched BC Day 1 vaccine rollout
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Future is Delayed
Teaser: BC’s vaccine rollout has some setbacks on Day 1, while Alberta looks to mobilize its own vaccine industry, and the situation of the 2 Michaels becomes more dire. Also, it turns out that the federal government knew about the Vance allegations back in 2018.
Recorded Date: March 12, 2021
Release Date: March 14, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes