A parliamentary committee’s request that the federal government turn over the contracts it signed with the makers of COVID-19 vaccines has gone unanswered for almost three months.
That’s because Ottawa is still negotiating with the manufacturers about how to release them, a senior official from the Privy Council Office (PCO) said Monday.
On Feb. 19, the House of Commons’ Health committee passed a motion attempting to secure the release of the legal agreements Ottawa signed with seven vaccine-makers: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Medicago, and Sanofi & GSK.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand has refused to publish any parts of the contracts, citing blanket confidentiality clauses. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is, however, working to comply with the motion, a spokesperson from Anand’s office said on Monday.
On March 4, Health committee chair and MP, Ron McKinnon, wrote to the Privy Council clerk, asking him to find the agreements and hand them over to the committee. A PCO spokesperson told iPolitics more than a month ago, on April 7, that it had received the letter, and was “working with PSPC to ensure the government of Canada follows up on the committee’s request as quickly as possible.”
Around that date, a spokesperson for PSPC said, “The government is working to respond to the committee’s request as quickly as possible.”
On Monday, at another meeting of the Health committee, the Privy Council’s deputy clerk, Christyne Tremblay, told MPs in French that “work is still underway” with the vaccine makers to release the contracts.
“These documents belong to the pharmaceutical companies, (and) we are actively working with them (to ensure the contracts are shared with the committee),” Tremblay said.
The law clerk and parliamentary counsel hadn’t received the contracts either, according to Tremblay. The clerk and counsel are supposed to be responsible for scrubbing documents of any personal information, as well as content that could jeopardize national security or the deals themselves.
The motion asking for the contracts was non-binding, meaning that, theoretically, the government could delay sending them until Parliament dissolves, killing the request. However, the committee could also strengthen its demand by setting a deadline or changing the request to an order. Doing so would require all opposition members on the committee to vote collectively for another motion, as they did on Feb. 19 for the original one.
To date, the only details made public of how much Canada paid for its COVID vaccines — which is part of what opposition members want released — were divulged by accident when the law clerk and parliamentary counsel mistakenly sent unredacted emails from a staff member in the Prime Minister’s Office to the Health committee.
The emails showed Canada paid more than double for AstraZeneca’s vaccines than some of its allies did.
This story was updated on May 10 at 8:21 p.m.
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