Evidence of meeting #18 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was masks.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Arianne Reza  Assistant Deputy Minister, Procurement, Department of Public Works and Government Services

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much.

Our modified round of questioning now moves back to Mr. Zimmer for his five minutes. Please go ahead.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you again to Minister Miller and our procurement minister.

I want to first of all thank Minister Miller for some of the issues he's been involved with in helping northern B.C. I want to recognize your efforts there, Minister, and thank you for being a good person to contact and follow up.

I want to ask a question about PPE to the procurement minister. We've heard from many communities, especially our indigenous communities—and I have an example of one just north of my hometown—that they were left scrambling, once they had a few COVID cases, for things like masks, hand sanitizer and the like.

Members of the community had also understood that there was an emergency stockpile that they were to have access to, but it simply wasn't available when they needed it.

Do you acknowledge that there were shortages of PPE during the pandemic?

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Anand Liberal Oakville, ON

The pandemic has seen an unparalleled growth in demand for PPE across the country and this world. We have been working extremely hard, and successfully so, at sourcing PPE.

I believe you're referring to the national emergency stockpile. It contains a set-aside for indigenous communities.

All of our procurement for the health sector has been on the basis of requests that have come from the Public Health Agency of Canada. I believe Minister Miller could speak to the large numbers of PPE that have been delivered to indigenous communities.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Go ahead, Minister Miller.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

From the get-go, the challenge of getting personal protective equipment into communities—we had our own stockpile—had to do with logistics and in ensuring we had that link within communities and understood the needs and what the nursing stations needed.

The department has been pretty proactive and has been moving from a slower response time to a much quicker one. Clearly, communities have specific needs, and it takes work.

Have we experienced shortages? I would have to speak to my team about that, but generally, the response rate has been pretty quick. Where there have been misunderstandings, it has always been in the haste of trying to get things out and figuring it out afterward. I wouldn't qualify any challenges we've had as specifically related to indigenous communities, other than remoteness, but clearly this is something we're conscious of.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Sorry, Minister Miller, for interrupting, but I have just a limited amount of time.

I understand that is an answer from your perspective in Ottawa, and maybe the ministry has said to you that this was all available and that it was accessible, etc., but the reality on the ground was that it wasn't.

My question, as a follow-up, is a difficult one if it's currently understood that everything was going fine or has functioned fine with COVID: What is being done to correct those lag times in getting supplies?

As an example, a reserve in my community was needing supplies. Simply, they were scrambling and going to Walmart. I was even helping with some of the supplies and getting some of them at Walmart and different grocery stores to try to address the problem.

If that's the reality on the ground, what is being done so that doesn't happen again?

I think it goes back to what Minister Anand said about the NESS, the national emergency strategic stockpile. “Strategic” would mean that all these stockpiles of PPE are located in areas where they're accessible within a few hours, I would guess. If it isn't that way now, what is being done so that is the way it will be in the future?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

You have 35 seconds.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Anand Liberal Oakville, ON

I could speak to that.

I am regularly in contact with my counterparts in procurement across the provinces and territories. In one of our meetings, the procurement minister in Nunavut said that Nunavut needed swabs, and we had swabs to Nunavut in 24 hours, so I—

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Clearly there have been a lot of success stories, but I'm talking about the stories about not having access to PPE. Those are the questions that I think need to be answered even more.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Anand Liberal Oakville, ON

Minister Hajdu—

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

The problem didn't exist—I get that—but where the problem did exist, we need to answer that and get the supplies to those places.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Anand Liberal Oakville, ON

I agree. I'm sure my colleague Minister Miller agrees also.

I will say that Minister Hajdu, who is in charge of the Public Health Agency of Canada, or it's under her purview, has said that she will review the mandate of the national stockpile, as it was never designed for a pandemic of this nature.

We agree with you that we need to make sure we have efficiencies in the distribution of PPE.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much.

Ms. Qaqqaq, you have, to conclude our modified round, two and a half minutes. Please go ahead.

June 19th, 2020 / 12:50 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Thank you. Matna, Chair.

I'll start by saying that we are starting this late because we were still waiting on the ministers to come on, knowing full well we've been doing this for a number of weeks. We know how a sound check works. This is why we get online a half an hour before. These are very important questions to be answered. Exactly as has been said, we are looking at what needs to change and where we need to make improvements, where the Liberal government needs to make improvements.

I don't think it's fully appreciated what impression indigenous communities get when a Liberal insider is given a contract, yet so many of our basic requests go unanswered. Nunavut has only seven ventilators. We have valid testing in only two of the 25 communities. We don't have enough clean water. Tuberculosis is still rampant, and there are so many other things.

If SARS, H1N1 and COVID-19 aren't the right time to act on long-term investments for people, then when is the right time?

Minister Miller, I'll start there.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

MP Qaqqaq, I will be very short with that. I will simply say that I agree with your statement. I think we need to take a really sober look at the needs, going forward, as to what the new normal is in massive infrastructure investments when we look at overcrowding.

Sure, I could tell you about the investments that the government has made since 2015, but you probably don't want to hear that, because that isn't the situation in communities that have overpopulation, which makes them more susceptible to tuberculosis. Those rates are unacceptable anywhere in the world, let alone in one of the best countries in the world. I think you're absolutely right in your observation.

I would simply say, in response to the point about a Liberal insider, that I have no knowledge of this person and I don't believe this person had any influence in any form of decision-making at all. I would just simply leave it at that, because I think your first point was exceedingly important.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

I think that's very interesting, considering my colleague had just given us a concrete example of the types of scandals that we do see all too often in our communities.

I know I'm running out of time, Chair, but I think it's incredibly important that ministers aren't only here to speak on things—we see a constant lack of action—but to be on time and to be respectful. We are here for our constituents, trying to do a job, and we have been prevented from doing that to the best of our abilities simply because of time management issues.

Thank you, Chair.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you, Ms. Qaqqaq, and thanks to our ministers—

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair. This motion has been on the table for weeks now. We've known about this meeting since mid-week this week. The minister was almost 15 minutes late in attending this meeting, and it has cut into our question time. I think this is completely unacceptable. I know MP van Koeverden suggested sharing his time, which was much appreciated, but the fact is that this is of no fault of our own and something that plainly could have been avoided. This is unacceptable.

Can we extend the time? Can we have the minister come back at another time? Truly, this has meant that the minister has not been here to answer the tough questions that he should be answering.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Mr. Chair, if I may speak to that point of order, I completely appreciate Ms. Qaqqaq's point and Ms. Ashton's.

The issue is that Mr. Miller was on the call at 12 o'clock, but there were technical issues that prevented him from coming on. That is a system problem and not a problem of the minister being delayed. He was here on time, for the record. It was the connection that took that long.

In spite of that, I believe, from the government side, we've given up our time to ensure that in the normal course of an hour, the time that the NDP would have had was satisfied, as well as the time for the Bloc. I do think we've acted in fairness, and I do believe that we've fulfilled the requirements of the motion.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks. That was the point of modifying it, so that the opposition members would get their proper time, which they did get, so we will stop it there.

Thanks to everyone who attended today.

Now I have a motion to adopt the study budget. This will be a recorded vote.

Members, please pay attention now. I put the motion forward to you that a proposed budget in the amount of $4,000 for the study of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic be adopted.

(Motion agreed to: yeas 10; nays 0 [See Minutes of Proceedings])

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We have now paid off the costs of operating our COVID-19 response. Thank you very much to all.

We'll be in touch off-line via email with regard to issues coming forward, but at this time I want to once again thank all of our committee members for their work today. I thought it was really well done. I also thank our staff, our clerk, our analysts and all the people who support us.

The technical side is a very difficult thing, but we still need to at least train ourselves as to the proper and most efficient way of doing this. My technical apex was the steam locomotive, but I'm doing it, so everyone else should be able to manage the technical issues. Hopefully that will be cleaned up for the next time.

That ends our meeting for today. This meeting is now adjourned.