The Estimates, 2020-21—Supplementary Estimates (A)

By: The Hon. Peter Harder

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Parliament from across the Ottawa River, Ottawa

Hon. Peter Harder: Honourable senators, I will be very brief because we have had two days of very significant discussion about this report.

I would like to say a few things on behalf of the committee. First, I commend Senator Mockler for the exceptional job he’s done as chair of this committee. The supps came to us as we were engaged in the already-authorized COVID review, so the supps were very much bound in the material and the thinking that we had already engaged in. The committee also adjusted to the Zoom approach to conduct the meetings.

We’ve had some challenges with technology but don’t we always?

The committees have otherwise been very successful and have heard from a wide range of officials on this matter, as well as others.

We would also like to thank the clerk, Maxime Fortin, and her team, for the hard work behind the scenes, the Library of Parliament employees, the interpreters, the translation teams, the technicians — all these professionals you see much more in action when you are vulnerable to the technology and to the appropriate support. So we are grateful for that.

I won’t discuss the Estimates in detail, as I’ve said, but I would like to draw attention of the chamber to a couple of the observations made by the committee. I want to share them with you because they highlight and are demonstrative of the collegial approach that the committee has taken to the work it has undertaken.

These observations can be found in the report, of course, but I highlight a couple for your attention.

First, with respect to the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, it is requesting additional funding and authorities of $628.4 million, including $192 million for emergency research and innovation measures, and $375.6 million for national medical research strategy. These funds will be used to support Canadian companies’ large-scale and later-stage research programs in developing vaccines and therapies, and to enhance clinical trials and biomanufacturing capacity in Canada.

Our committee appreciates ISED’s efforts in supporting Canadian research and manufacturing capacity, especially given the risk of overreliance on overseas medical supplies, and will be monitoring the progress and distribution of these funds for and on behalf of Senate colleagues.

With regard to PHAC, the Public Health Agency of Canada, it is requesting $42.3 million to establish domestic production of personal protective equipment and to support Canada’s medical countermeasures response in collaboration with ISED. Again, officials from PHAC told the committee that, currently, every country is heavily dependent on overseas manufacturing. However, efforts are being made to move Canada toward a domestic production of PPE. Out of the $42.3 million requested, $37 million will be used for this effort. A number of Canadian companies have responded and retooled for the production of PPE. For the sake of transparency, the committee feels the government needs to periodically publish the details of its collaboration with private companies and report the distribution of these efforts across Canada.

Finally, with Indigenous Services Canada, it works in collaboration with partners to improve access to highly qualified services for First Nations, Inuit and Métis, and works to support and empower Indigenous peoples to independently deliver services and address socio-economic conditions in their communities. The current health crisis demonstrates inequalities in access to health services and it has exposed vulnerability of Indigenous communities to the virus. Officials acknowledge that the pandemic had a significant impact on ISC’s operations, including the suspension of some infrastructure investments due to the closure of communities. The committee reiterates that it believes it is imperative that ISC strengthen Indigenous health care capacity across Canada.

Finally, I should say that, in respect of the Department of National Defence, the committee is unanimous in believing that more senior people from the department, including the deputy minister, need to speak to the committee with respect to concerns on the public reporting of certain investments made in capital acquisitions.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank the people working for the departments and organizations who have been extremely agile in delivering services to Canadians with speed and quality. Canadians are working hard and struggling under very complex circumstances, and we appreciate the work that is being done. The new spending plans in these supplementary efforts will support people affected by the pandemic and maintain support for the economy and Canadians. Your committee commends this report for your adoption.

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