Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu defended Health Canada’s process for approving tools to fight COVID-19 on Tuesday after Premier Jason Kenney suggested Alberta may bypass its approval to take steps to respond to the pandemic.
On Sunday afternoon, Kenney tweeted that he directed Alberta officials to consider the use of COVID-19 tests, vaccines or medications that have been approved by at least one credible peer country’s drug agency instead of waiting for Health Canada.
“We won’t wait for Health Canada to play catch up,” he tweeted.
Hajdu said Health Canada validates “these things using science to make sure that they are effective, that they are not dangerous and that they are used in appropriate ways with scientific guidance.”
“I just want to thank the public service for how hard I know they are working to expedite approvals of tests, for example, or other kinds of equipment that we need,” she added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he understands that “people can get anxious and impatient about things” but also defended Health Canada’s approval process.
“We are going to continue to work with top medical officials like Dr. Theresa Tam to make sure that we’re doing everything we need to do and have done every step of the way to keep Canadians safe,” he said.
In a statement issued to Global News on Tuesday, Kenney’s office pointed to Spartan Bioscience’s portable COVID-19 test as an example of what the premier was talking about.
Once that test was approved in the U.S., Alberta moved to acquire the devices late last month. Health Canada approved them earlier this week.
On Tuesday, Canada’s chief public health officer also defended Health Canada.
“Our Health Canada colleagues have authorized a lot of tools that Canadians can use,” Tam said.
On Tuesday, Kenney’s office said he does trust Health Canada and its credibility to approve treatments, but he still feels Alberta should not wait for Health Canada to play catch-up with other health districts. His office added that any decisions regarding the acquisition of tools to combat COVID-19 will be made by Alberta health officials, not politicians.
On Monday, Kenney appeared on CBC’s television program Power and Politics where he spoke about his concerns. He also criticized some of Tam’s comments during the public health crisis, suggesting she was repeating talking points used in China during the early days of the pandemic about there being “no evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
Alberta’s NDP said Kenney should apologize for that critique.
“Jason Kenney is concerned about how he’s looking… [in terms of his] own poor approach to some aspects of this crisis, and he’s just trying to pick a fight with Ottawa to distract,” said Opposition Health Critic David Shepherd.
“Dr. Tam is a highly-respected expert in her field. If Jason Kenney has some evidence to support this bizarre claim, he should present it. Otherwise, he owes Dr. Tam a public apology.”
Tam said Tuesday she has “had incredible collaboration with the chief medical officers, including, of course, the chief medical officer in Alberta, and we work really well together and all of us are trying very hard.”
Lori Williams, a political commentator and professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, told Global News on Tuesday that she believes Kenney could have delivered his message in a less confrontational way.
“He could have certainly said, ‘Look, this is the way to do things and I will continue to do this for Albertans,’” she said. “That would have been a great message.
“But to criticize the federal government for not doing what he thinks they should have done at whatever point in time, in hindsight… is difficult.”
She also described Kenney’s claim that Tam was parroting talking points from the Chinese government as “bizarre.”
“It’s an absolutely unnecessary swipe at one of the great heroes in this [fight against COVID-19],” she said. “As we’re seeing, it’s the medical personnel who are trying to plan for dealing with this virus on the front lines.
“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the primary heroes in the midst of this pandemic.”
–With files from Global News’ Tom Vernon and Michael King
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