Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says a Conservative government would call a public inquiry into all aspects of the Liberal government’s response to the pandemic.
As he made the commitment Tuesday, Mr. O’Toole accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government of having been “unprepared” for the public-health crisis, which has led to the deaths of more than 23,000 Canadians.
“When the pandemic is over, we need answers, we need to know what worked and what didn’t. We need complete transparency and accountability,” Mr. O’Toole said at a news conference in Ottawa.
A federal election is expected this year.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu responded by saying the government is focused on getting Canada through the pandemic, but will, in due course, be interested in a thorough examination of the response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“I can’t predict the nature of the inquiry, but I can tell you that we would want all Canadians to participate,” she said. “So, I will say that we’re open to an inquiry that is as deep as necessary, including a public inquiry that’s focused on how our country can be better prepared for global health threats in the future.”
Mr. O’Toole said he would look for a “prominent former jurist” or someone above the political fray to lead an inquiry into the government’s actions.
“The government was late at the border, late on securing rapid tests, late now on vaccines, and that’s why we’re having a more severe third wave. Canadians want to know we can restore confidence and self-reliance as a country, and that’s what this public exercise will do.”
The Conservative leader also suggested the appointment of a special monitor from the Office of the Auditor-General to track the pandemic response and ensure lessons are recorded to deal with future pandemics.
Canada has administered more than 6.7 million doses, with about 16 per cent of the population receiving at least one shot. The country was to receive more than three million doses last week, the single-largest week of deliveries. Mr. Trudeau has committed to vaccinating every adult Canadian who wants to be by the end of September and says an earlier finish is possible.
Ms. Hajdu and Mr. Trudeau have said every country should do a full review of their pandemic response when the crisis is over.
“Clearly every country has a lot to learn, including Canada,” Ms. Hajdu told a news conference in Ottawa. “We have committed to that. From our perspective, there needs to be a foundation so we have a full accounting of lessons learned through this pandemic that can be applied to better preparedness for the next global health crisis.”
But Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor and a senior fellow with the Waterloo, Ont.-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, with expertise in national security and health security, said the federal government is moving too slowly on the issue.
He said he was glad for Mr. O’Toole’s comment “because I don’t see any real sign that the government treats this lessons-learned process as a matter of any urgency at all.”
Prof. Wark said although there have been some “piecemeal” efforts around review, such as initial reports from the auditor-general, there needs to be a “whole-government, comprehensive, lessons-learned exercise. That’s what we have to drive toward.”
He said the options ahead are a royal commission or an expert commission, and that both should be launched because they can run on different timelines.
The upside of a royal commission is that it is conducted in public and has unrestricted access to people and documents, while expert panels can move more quickly with stature akin to the royal commissions.
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