The West Block – Episode 49, Season 10

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Episode 49, Season 10

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Host: Abigail Bimman


Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister

Nathan Friedland, Emergency Room Nurse, Montreal

MP Panel:

Lena Metlege Diab, Liberal MP-Elect, Halifax West

Melissa Lantsman, Conservative MP, Thornhill

Lisa Marie Barron, NDP MP-Elect, Nanaimo—Ladysmith

Location: Ottawa, ON

Abigail Bimman: This week on The West Block: A green light for American road trips.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister: “We are working to clarify and finalize all the details.”

Abigail Bimman: What you need to know before crossing the border.

Two months between election day and the next Parliament? We’ll get a fresh take on the new session from some of Ottawa’s freshest faces with a panel of new MPs.

And, what to do about unvaccinated health care workers.

Christian Dubé: “If we continue like this, we will run into a wall.”

Abigail Bimman: Quebec extends a deadline, at risk of losing as many as 25 thousand employees.

It’s Sunday, October 17th. I’m Abigail Bimman, and this is The West Block. Mercedes Stephenson is away today.

Well, some big news this week for Canadians looking to head south for road trips, family reunions and vacations. Come November, the United States will open its land borders to vaccinated foreigners, no COVID test required.

Jim Diodati, Niagara Falls Mayor: “Family on both sides, friends on both sides, we go shopping back and forth. It’s a real symbiotic relationship.”

Abigail Bimman: For more than two months, Canada’s borders have been open to vaccinated Americans any way they want to cross. But since the start of the pandemic, Canadians couldn’t drive to the U.S.

Patty Hajdu, Health Minister: “It’s been incredibly confusing for travellers.”

Abigail Bimman: That will change November 8th. You’ll be asked about your vaccination status at the land border. You won’t need to show proof unless you’re screened further. You will need to show proof to fly to the U.S. You won’t need a COVID test to enter that country by land, but Canada still requires a negative PCR test on the way back.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister: “Our measures have been flexible and they have adapted to changing circumstances.”

Abigail Bimman: And on the Canadian side, we still have this conflicting advice about whether it’s a good idea to travel at all.

Patty Hajdu, Health Minister: “We still have travel advisories in place, recommending that people don’t travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Abigail Bimman: And to break all that down, we are joined by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

Minister, thank you for being here. I want to start with those words from your colleague Patty Hajdu on our show last week, saying now is not the time to travel. It’s a confusing message with the U.S. and Canada making it easier to cross the border. What is your message to Canadians who want to travel?

Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister: Well, certainly we understand that there’s a very strong pent up demand for people who want to travel. Many Canadian snowbirds for example, are anxiously waiting to find out if they’ll be able to go south for the winter. But at the same time, we also recognize that in international travel, when people travel into countries where the circumstances can change, and we’ve seen that happen throughout the pandemic, Abigail, where, you know, the rules have suddenly changed and people have not been able to get out of the country, or they may be confronted with, you know, last minute changes in various jurisdictions where a travel advisory remains in place. But we are also taking action to make sure that people who do choose to travel can do so safely, and particularly for fully vaccinated travellers with the development, and it’s well underway, the work on an international proof of vaccination certificate system and also with the new rules being announced reciprocal between ourselves and the United States now, whereby travellers to both Canada and the United States who are fully vaccinated, will be able to enter the country for non-essential purposes.

Abigail Bimman: Minister, you talk about, you know, being aware or being careful heading to certain regions, do you think that the government’s blanket travel advisory should be more targeted?

Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister: Well I think eventually it will evolve that way and one of the things—and, you know, the deputy prime minister made reference to it, over the course of the entire pandemic, the advice that we’ve been receiving from our health officials, and we monitor very carefully the data and the evidence from around the world and that advice has continued to evolve, we are also seeing now that with the proof of vaccination, verification that is being put in place, as well as the utility of the negative PCR tests that we’ve also put in place, those measures have proven to be quite effective in protecting our communities and Canadians from the introduction of COVID at our borders and so we’ll continue to learn from those lessons and modify our advice as appropriate. But in every case, we listen to the science. We listen to the advice of our public health agencies and we work very closely and collaboratively with our international partners.

Abigail Bimman: We certainly expect more Canadians to hit the road next month to the U.S., and in order to make things easier your government has been promising a vaccine certification or vaccine passport system for months. Can you give us any update on when that will be ready, specifically?

Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister: Actually, there’s been a great deal of work done on that and the prime minister’s indicated that it remains a very significant priority for us. We know that an internationally recognized proof of vaccination certificate is going to be necessary and very helpful to Canadians who choose to travel abroad. And so I’m very confident that in the coming weeks, we will be introducing those certificates. There’s still some work that’s being done with our provincial partners where the data is actually resident and to make sure that that’s available to Canadians right across the country. But some real progress has been made and I’m confident my colleague, the minister from immigration, will be making those announcements in the coming weeks. But a great deal of work has been done and we’ve promised that we’re going to get this job done as quickly as possible and the prime minister has certainly indicated that it remains a priority for our government.

Abigail Bimman: Can you make a promise that that will be before this date of November 8th when Canadians will be able to travel to the U.S. by road, by land?

Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister: I always think it’s important to over perform and under promise, but at the same time I’m very confident that that work has been progressing very, very well and that we will have in place for a number of Canadian travellers that certificate by that date. But there are still some other contingencies that need to be addressed. We’re working through them as quickly as possible and I think in our conversations with the provinces and territories, I think everybody recognizes the importance of an international—you know they talk about a vaccine passport. It’s proof of vaccination certification that would be accepted internationally. We’ve been working really hard on that. The work, by the way, continued throughout the entire summer. We have been working on this for several months and the results of that hard work will be announced in the coming weeks.

Abigail Bimman: So many pieces of this puzzle and so many, you know so much changing information and details. I would like to get you to clarify your understanding about a test requirement for Canadians entering the United States by air versus by land.

Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister: For several months now, Canadians have required—travellers entering this country, both Canadians and Americans and foreign nations to be fully vaccinated and to show proof of a negative PCR test. We understand with the new regulations being put in by the United States, they are not going to require that negative PCR test at land borders, but they are going to retain the requirement for people arriving internationally by air into the United States that they be both fully vaccinated and that they have the results of a negative PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours, exactly the same standard and requirement that Canada will have for international air travellers as well.

Abigail Bimman: All right. We’ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister: Thanks very much, Abigail.

Abigail Bimman: And one more important piece of the puzzle. Late Friday, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released a critical update: People who received mixed doses of COVID-10 vaccines will be eligible to enter to the United States next month. The agency stopped short of recommending the mixed dose practice in the U.S., but now acknowledges it is an increasingly common vaccination strategy elsewhere in the world. That includes Canada where nearly 4 million people are believed to have received doses of two different vaccines.

We asked Minister Blair about this before the CDC made its announcement. Here’s what he said about the Canadian Government’s role.

Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister: I can tell you, we’ve been working very closely with our American counterparts. Our health officials have been providing the data, the evidence in our studies, which have demonstrated, I think, and shown very clearly, the efficacy and the effectiveness of the mixed dosage regime that was put in place in Canada. We provided that evidence to the CDC.

Abigail Bimman: Well up next, they won the election, now they wait to take their seat in the House of Commons for the first time. We check-in with new MPs about their goals for the next session of Parliament.


Abigail Bimman: Tomorrow marks one month since the federal election. A new cabinet will be unveiled nine days from now and the House set to resume November 22nd. And when it does, there will be several dozen new faces and we want their take on what comes next.

Joining me now is a panel of new MPs-Elect from coast to coast. In Halifax, we have Liberal Lena Metlege Diab; in Thornhill, Ontario, Conservative Melissa Lantsman; and in Nanaimo, B.C., we have New Democrat Lisa Marie Barron. Thank you all for being here. I’m going to jump right in. I’m going to start with Ms. Metlege Diab. We know now the House will come back more than two months after the election, I want to know where is the government accountability there? We got a message from Canadians electing a minority Parliament. They want you to work with other parties, so why take so long to get back to work?

Lena Metlege Diab, Liberal MP-Elect, Halifax West: Let me say merci beaucoup for having us here on this panel. I’m very pleased that I am with an all-female panel here, and very pleased that Canadians have elected the most female MPs to the House of Commons, particularly as we celebrate the 100 year anniversary for the first woman to get elected.

So to your question, Canadians want us to get the job done and I’m very pleased and really excited to be part of the new MPs, to be able to work with my caucus colleagues and also with other colleagues across the aisle in order to do the important things that Canadians want us to do.

Having said that, the government has continued to do the great work that it had been doing, particularly on ensuring that Canadians are kept safe on mandating vaccines for federal employees, as well as for travel and so on. So there’s a lot of work to do and I’m very excited to get to work on those.

Abigail Bimman: Melissa Lantsman, is that enough for you? I know your party put out a statement saying that a Conservative government would have gotten back to work faster. What do you think?

Melissa Lantsman, Conservative MP, Thornhill: Well, I think that’s absolutely true. I think after, you know, after Mr. Trudeau crossed the country over the last, you know, over the last 36 days just less than a month ago saying that this was the most important election since World War II, you would think that we would be called back to work in-person, in Parliament, you know, with less than 62 days of vacation. So I think Canadians expect that their parliamentarians go and fight for them in Ottawa and they do that within a reasonable timeline. I don’t know anybody who after a very important election says that we should take a vacation for 62 days.

Abigail Bimman: All right. And Lisa Marie Barron, I want to ask you the NDP helped the minority Liberals pass legislation time and time again in the last Parliament. Do you think your party will follow that playbook this time around?

Lisa Marie Barron, NDP MP-Elect, Nanaimo—Ladysmith: Thanks for having me on here and also I’m very happy to be on here with other MPs. You know what we know is that the NDP MPs continue to fight for people, continue to fight for the environment, and that’s what we’ll see moving forward. We’re excited to get to work and know that we will continue to push for people. People are struggling right now. We’re seeing that and hearing that. That’s what our MPs have brought forward in our first caucus meeting was talking about how do we fight for the people that are struggling and fight to address the climate crisis.

Abigail Bimman: But how do you think that interplay will work with the Liberals? Will you help prop up this minority government again in this new Parliament?

Lisa Marie Barron, NDP MP-Elect, Nanaimo—Ladysmith: Yeah, we will definitely continue to push Trudeau’s Liberals to do better for people, and sure do hope that this government will work with the NDP to get the work done and that’s exactly what we’ll continue to do, is push for that to happen.

Abigail Bimman: All right. Another hot topic right now is this question of whether it should be mandatory for MPs to be vaccinated when they come and sit in the House of Commons. I want to start with Melissa Lantsman. During the campaign, your leader didn’t mandate vaccinations for candidates. Where do you stand on whether all your MP colleagues, you know, sitting side-by-side in the House should be mandated to be vaccinated?

Melissa Lantsman, Conservative MP, Thornhill: Look, I think first and foremost, Parliament needs to come back in-person. I don’t think that we’ve heard that necessarily from the government, and I know that negotiations haven’t started yet. They will start shortly about what that return in-person looks like. But absolutely, it shouldn’t be virtual.

On the question of vaccines, like I think vaccines are important. I am vaccinated. I am double-vaccinated. I encourage others to get vaccinated. And while those negotiations are happening, I think that the government needs to be clear on what it’s going to take to get people back into the House and in less than a month from now.

Abigail Bimman: Okay, but I’m not really hearing a clear position on whether you think it’s important that your caucus colleagues or that all MPs…

Melissa Lantsman, Conservative MP, Thornhill: I think it’s—look, I absolutely think it’s important to be vaccinated. I am vaccinated. Again, we’re going to have those discussions in our caucus. We’re going to make that position known. But in terms of the negotiation of what happens in the House that happens between the House leaders and the leadership in both parties on what a return to Parliament looks like.

Abigail Bimman: Okay. And on that return to Parliament, Lena Metlege Diab, I’m going to ask you on both points there. Should Parliament be in-person only? And, what do you think about all MPs being vaccinated or having that be mandatory?

Lena Metlege Diab, Liberal MP-Elect, Halifax West: So we know that Canadians want us to keep them safe. We also know that science and epidemiology has told us that vaccination is the way through this pandemic. So that’s why I believe it’s important for elected officials to show leadership on this question and in fact, I come from Nova Scotia and have been a cabinet minister here for the last eight years, and I’m happy to say that even the government here in Nova Scotia has made that a priority and has mandated that all elected provincial officials also had to be vaccinated and in fact, they’ve returned to the House just this week. So I believe that for those MPs that choose to set foot in the House of Commons that they do need to be vaccinated unless they have a clear medical exemption. Again, I’m not a doctor nor am I an epidemiologist, but there is a way there. Otherwise, I think they, you know, they I would believe should be given the opportunity to attend virtually and I believe that’s the right thing for us to do for Canadians.

Abigail Bimman: So that’s interesting because that leaves the door open to a virtual Parliament from your perspective. Do you believe that there should be a virtual Parliament, virtual committees? Where do you stand on that part of the issue?

Lena Metlege Diab, Liberal MP-Elect, Halifax West: Again, MPs were all elected in their respective ridings to represent their communities. We all have a duty, though, to represent our communities, but we also have a duty to represent all Canadians. And in doing so, right now, the pandemic is a crisis across the country, particularly in some provinces more than others, and it is incumbent on us to ensure that we set a good example and we do get vaccinated. So I urge those MPs that are not vaccinated to please get themselves vaccinated…

Abigail Bimman: Sorry, Ms. Metlege Diab, I’m just going to cut you off there because you’re answering about vaccination, but I was interested in your answer on virtual Parliament. Do you believe there should be virtual sittings in the House, committee meetings? Should virtual still be on the table at this point in the pandemic?

Lena Metlege Diab, Liberal MP-Elect, Halifax West: My preference would be in-person. As I said before, MPs were elected to represent their ridings and they need to have an opportunity to do that. Having said that, I think returning November 22nd will give them all an opportunity to actually get vaccinated, if they have not yet gotten vaccinated. And we all know they’re not going to be able to fly in to Ottawa for that. So I encourage them all to get vaccinated.

Abigail Bimman: All right, thank you. And Lisa Marie Barron, I know there’s—we now have these two questions on the table that you haven’t had a question to answer there. So mandatory vaccinations for MPs, and what about the future of Parliament? Virtual or in-person?

Lisa Marie Barron, NDP MP-Elect, Nanaimo—Ladysmith: Yeah, thank you. You know Jagmeet has made it very clear, Jagmeet Singh, our leader of the NDP, has made it very clear from the beginning that we need to be setting strong leadership, an example on how to best move forward and we know that with the more of us that are vaccinated, the better. And so all NDP members of Parliament are double-vaccinated and, you know, I’ve been double-vaccinated, my children have been double-vaccinated. And so we definitely believe that our leadership needs to be setting that example and continuing to increase all those who are vaccinated.

As far as meeting, you know, of course meeting in-person is always much better for us to be able to work together, but I’m going to continue to listen for the advice from our medical health experts around, you know, how we best move forward. We hope that this pandemic, that cases will decrease, but the future’s unknown right now, so we will see what our medical health experts recommend and we’ll, of course, continue to be creative to ensure that our ridings are represented. And yeah, prefer to be in-person of course, but we’ll see what happens.

Abigail Bimman: We’ll see—a lot to see in the weeks ahead. That’s all the time we have. Thank you so much to our panel of new MPs from coast to coast, an all-female panel. Thank you so much for joining us on The West Block.

Well still ahead, Quebec grapples with the potential consequences of a vaccine mandate in a staff strapped health care sector.


Abigail Bimman: Welcome back. This week, Quebec’s health minister announced the province is postponing its mandatory vaccination requirement for health care workers by one month. Christian Dubé says as many as 25 thousand workers are not vaccinated and if the plan to suspend them without pay this month went ahead, the impact of labour shortages on an already stretched system would be too great.

Christian Dubé, Quebec Health Minister: “We want to give the unvaccinated staff extra time to collect their dose, but I want to be clear: we will apply the mandatory vaccination for health care workers, but postponing the 30-day deadline is the best solution under the circumstances.”

Abigail Bimman: And joining me now to discuss this is Nathan Friedland, a nurse at a Montreal hospital. Thank you so much for joining us and of course, for all your work on the frontlines. I want to ask what you think of this announcement. Will it be enough to get as many as 25 thousand people vaccinated?

Nathan Friedland, Emergency Room Nurse, Montreal: I think it’s a terrible decision by the health minister and no, I don’t think it will be enough to get 22 thousand health care workers vaccinated.

The whole thing behind health care is there has to be accountability. Without accountability, health care doesn’t work. And the health minister tried to hold us accountable and he failed. Now Mr. Dubé gave us a reason that 35 per cent of long-term care facilities would lose significant services if he went ahead with the deadline. I don’t need to remind you that long-term care centres in Quebec were like death houses. There were literally thousands and thousands of elderly people that died in long-term care facilities in this province. We lead Canada in deaths. How is it that there are still health care workers in long-term care facilities that are not vaccinated? These people are elderly, they’re at-risk. They’re going to get a third dose. This speaks to a lack of…

Abigail Bimman: So may I ask you, Mr. Friedland, what—tell us about the why because you work alongside—you know a lot of colleagues in health care and we don’t often talk about the why behind the hesitancy. Why do you think there are these thousands of people still unvaccinated?

Nathan Friedland, Emergency Room Nurse, Montreal: It’s unfortunately a lack of professionalism, a lack of knowledge and I hear reasons like oh well, my body can fight the virus better than the vaccine can. The vaccine has a microchip in it. The government’s trying to control us. I mean these are health care professionals. This is unprofessional of them.

Abigail Bimman: You’re hearing health care professionals who believe that there’s a microchip? Wow.

Nathan Friedland, Emergency Room Nurse, Montreal: Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, this is just unbelievable to me. And he had a chance to hold us accountable, which happens very rarely in health care and he didn’t take it.

Abigail Bimman: I want to ask you what you think should have been done differently, because had he, as you put it, held you and health care workers to account, there would be this staffing shortage. What do you think the government should do going forward?

Nathan Friedland, Emergency Room Nurse, Montreal: I think that whatever data he was presented with, that’s not the data that I see where I work. And I work in a very busy emergency room that’s plagued with staff shortages and we would have handled this deadline just fine. Now if it’s a case of long-term care centres not having enough people vaccinated, which he stated, I mean that’s clearly just pathetic that these workers are not vaccinated when they saw people in their facilities die from this virus. They should all be vaccinated. A 100 per cent of them should be vaccinated by now. So his reasoning to me doesn’t hold water. And now…

Abigail Bimman: Okay. I take your point about long-term care, but you think that hospitals would be able to manage the burden if unvaxxed staff were not on the job?

Nathan Friedland, Emergency Room Nurse, Montreal: I could tell you that mine would have.

Abigail Bimman: All right. Well thank you so much for your insights into this matter. I really appreciate your time today.

Nathan Friedland, Emergency Room Nurse, Montreal: You’re welcome.

Abigail Bimman: That was Nathan Friedland, a nurse at a Montreal hospital. And unfortunately, that’s all the time we have. Thank you for spending part of your Sunday with us. I’m Abigail Bimman. Have a great week.

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