(Ottawa) Even before Pfizer announced Friday a 50% reduction in the number of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that will be delivered to Canada in the coming weeks to allow for the expansion of its production facility in Europe, ministers of the Trudeau government and Liberal strategists were engaged in countless calculations.
Their calculations have the same objective: to determine the best date to call the voters to the polls – in the spring or in the fall – in order to obtain another mandate, preferably in the majority.
In their conjectures, a constant comes up. The success of the national vaccination campaign will have a decisive influence on the success of their electoral campaign. Of course, it is the provinces that are the real conductors in vaccinating the population. Ottawa’s role is to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, obtain quickly and in sufficient quantities doses of vaccines approved by Health Canada and then distribute them to the provinces.
PHOTO SEAN KILPATRICK, THE CANADIAN PRESS
“The deployment of the vaccine is absolutely crucial, crucial, crucial,” dropped a high-level liberal source this week, referring to the holding of federal elections soon and the Liberals’ chances of winning.
Privately, a cabinet minister underlines the Herculean task looming on the horizon to fulfill Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge to ensure that all Canadians who so desire can be vaccinated by September at the latest.
He calculates that at least 70% of the Canadian population (38 million people) will have to be vaccinated to obtain some form of herd immunity and curb the spread of the virus – an essential condition for any solid economic recovery. This means approximately 27 million Canadians. If Ottawa expects three million people to be immunized by the end of March, 24 million will remain to be immunized by September.
Concretely, this will require a well-functioning operation making it possible to vaccinate 130,000 people every day for six months from the 1er April, until the end of September.
“Is it possible to vaccinate 130,000 people every day relentlessly for six months?” Do we have sufficient human resources to achieve such an objective? Vaccination is pretty slow at the moment, ”says one in the liberal ranks.
These figures no doubt explain the untimely exit of Justin Trudeau two weeks ago against the slow beginnings of the vaccination campaign in the provinces, while the pandemic continues to grow and claim victims.
Stung, the provincial premiers dismissed these criticisms, retorting that Ottawa was solely responsible for supplying the vaccines and that they did not have enough doses on hand.
Trudeau admitted last week that his criticisms were not “helpful” during the last conference call with his provincial counterparts. But to ensure that as many people as possible get vaccinated, as healthcare workers are on the verge of exhaustion after 10 months of pandemic, the Trudeau government has signaled it is ready to mobilize soldiers. Canadian Armed Forces and Red Cross employees as needed, if the provinces wish, to increase the pace.
Inevitably, the Trudeau government will have to deal with not necessarily flattering comparisons with other countries. Since Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna announced that their respective vaccines were 95% effective and started production, opposition parties have been hounding the Prime Minister on his government’s vaccination strategy by broadly highlighting the successes of countries like Israel and the UK, among others, to step up the pressure.
The plan of President-designate Joe Biden, who will take the reins of power in Washington next Wednesday, to administer 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during the first 100 days of its administration will only increase this pressure.
To give equivalent results, approximately 10 million doses would have to be administered in the country by mid-April.
In Ottawa, the scenario on which the Trudeau government is working makes it possible to foresee six million doses “in the arms of Canadians” by the end of March.
It must be said that plans to expand the Pfizer plant in Puurs, Belgium, where the vaccines that Canada obtains are produced, do not affect the United States. Because at Uncle Sam, the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech is manufactured at the plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The Conservative Party launched another salvo on Friday. “The Prime Minister must explain to Canadians why they cannot be vaccinated for months, unlike the people of countries like the United States,” said Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus.
“It is up to him to explain why, while we have learned that there will be delays in the delivery of vaccines, the lockdown could last for months yet – with the loss of jobs and family time and related mental health issues – while vaccines are being delivered to countries like the United States. It is also up to him to find a better way forward. If plan A fails, what is plan B? “, he added.
Even before hearing these criticisms, the President of the Treasury Board, Jean-Yves Duclos, was working to demonstrate that the glass is more than half full.
“It’s something that we don’t control at all. It has nothing to do with the ability of the Canadian government or the provinces to change the situation. This is a European production issue for a pharmaceutical company with which we have had excellent relations from the start, ”he said on Friday.
“Canada was the second country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine, after the United Kingdom. So it’s been going very well from the start. We are part of the leading pack in this international race for vaccines, ”added the Minister.
Liberals ahead in the polls
As all the leaders prepare for an election in 2021, the Liberals still hold a slight lead in the polls. The latest probe from the firm Abacus Data indicated on Friday that the Liberal Party of Canada would win 35% of the vote if an election were held today, against 31% for the Conservative Party, 17% for the NDP and 6% for the Green Party. In Quebec, the fight would be close between the Liberal Party (37%) and the Bloc Québécois (35%). The Conservative Party would win 14%, while the NDP and the Green Party should be content with 9% and 6% of support respectively, according to the firm Abacus Data.
Since the start of the pandemic, voters who have been called to the polls in three provinces – New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan; those of Newfoundland and Labrador will vote on February 13 – rewarded the government in power by granting it a new mandate. In the case of the first two provinces, the parties that formed a minority government were able to secure a majority of the seats.
These statistics obviously do not escape the Liberals of Justin Trudeau, who are in the minority in the Commons. During the campaign which seems inevitable in 2021, the Prime Minister will be tempted to borrow a slogan from Jean Charest, who asked Quebec voters to have “both hands on the wheel” in 2008, after finding himself in the minority in 2007, to face the economic storm which then shook the planet.
But before getting there, the liberal strategists want at all costs to prevent misfires in the vaccination campaign from causing their campaign bus to skid.