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Vaccines End the Pandemic’s Political Harmony

After several months of the pandemic not being a partisan issue in Canada, the prospect of effective vaccines has finally politicized it. While the political dissent in no way resembles the polarization that surrounds the pandemic in the United States, Erin O’Toole has made the government’s vaccine plans the subject of his first major attack as Conservative leader on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Joining Mr. O’Toole have been several of the premiers. Ontario’s premier Doug Ford, who as recently as August said, “I absolutely love Chrystia Freeland,” Mr. Trudeau’s deputy prime minister, now grumbles about being denied information by the Liberal government.

Although no vaccine is currently approved for use in Canada, or in the United States or Europe, Mr. O’Toole introduced a motion in Parliament on Thursday to, among other things, require the government to post specific dates for when Canadians will start receiving each of the various vaccines it has ordered; offer details on how the vaccines will be shipped and stored; and state who the government will recommend be first inoculated by provincial health care systems.

“Canadians deserve to know when they can expect each vaccine type to be available in Canada and how many vaccines will be available per month,” Mr. O’Toole said. “In the middle of a historic health crisis, this government should not be operating behind closed doors.”

The motion followed earlier claims by Mr. O’Toole that the government had excessively focused efforts on a joint vaccine venture between CanSino, a Chinese vaccine maker, the National Research Council and Dalhousie University that ultimately fell apart because of lack of cooperation from China. He also said Canada was at the back of the line for the millions of doses of vaccines it has ordered.

The government rejects Mr. Toole’s accusations that it has somehow dropped the ball on vaccines and will leave Canadians waiting for the shots.

When confirming this week that the first doses will arrive in early 2021, Anita Anand, the minister responsible for buying them, emphasized that everything now hinges on Health Canada determining that the vaccines are both safe and effective.

“While there is pressure to move at the speed of politics, we will not rush the science,” she told a news conference. “It is not possible to circle a single date on the calendar but I can assure you that as soon as Health Canada approval occurs, our delivery process will kick in.”

But that does open up the question of why Britain is going ahead now with the vaccine from Pfizer, the American company that will also be Canada’s first supplier. Benjamin Mueller, my colleague based in London, recently explained that, unlike Canada and the United States, Britain’s regulator is willing to rely more on reports by drug makers that their vaccines are safe and work as promised, rather than analyze the raw data.

[Read: Why the U.K. Approved a Coronavirus Vaccine First]

Not everyone accepts the wisdom of Britain’s accelerated approach.

Scott Matthews, a professor of political science at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, told me that it was inevitable that the political harmony in Canada around the pandemic would erode.

“The prime minister has been benefiting from the absence of criticism,” he said.

But he said there was no danger that the current focus on vaccine delivery would harm the overall message of the importance of following public health guidelines to reduce infection.

“The Conservatives’ approach isn’t putting anyone’s life in danger and it’s natural they’d be criticizing the government — that’s what the opposition does,” he said. But Professor Matthews wondered what would be gained if specific dates are pinned down. “Is the motion they’re talking about really that important?” he asked.


  • On Nov. 7, before British Columbia imposed new pandemic restrictions and after the end of the pro hockey season, several N.H.L. players and Patrick Chan, an Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, climbed aboard two helicopters. Their destination was a makeshift rink about 100 kilometers north of Vancouver at a mountaintop altitude of 1,800 meters. Gerald Narciso tells the story of that day, which was captured in stunning photos by Devin Olsen and Zachary Moxley.

  • In Opinion, Nicholas Kristof has examined the harm inflicted by Pornhub and its Montreal-based parent company, Mindgeek, and asks: “Why does Canada host a company that inflicts rape videos on the world?” (A note of caution: His powerful report includes descriptions of sexual assaults.)

  • Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia is foremost among scientists who have changed how we understand forests. She has demonstrated that they are not a collection of solitary trees fighting each other for resources but rather vast and intricate societies exchanging carbon, water and nutrients through underground networks of fungus. Set aside some time for Ferris Jabr’s article for The New York Times Magazine, which is beautifully illustrated by Brendan George Ko, a photographer from Toronto.

  • Elliot Page, the Halifax-born and raised actor and Oscar-nominated star of “Juno,” announced on Tuesday that he is transgender.

  • A clutch of tiny eggs arrived at the Montreal Insectarium in 2018. They would solve a century-old mystery about an elusive leaf insect.

  • Several Indigenous podcasters offered their recommendations for podcasts about their people and communities.

  • As it wrote off $20 billion in natural gas investments. Exxon Mobil said it was removing gas projects in Canada, the United States and Argentina from its plans.

  • The police said two American women tampered with railway signals in Washington state, an action with the potential to cause a derailment. The tampering, which led to terrorism charges, appears to have been an act of solidarity with Indigenous Canadians opposed to the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and British Columbia.


A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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