What We’re Watching: Testimony of minister, chief medical officer

With new projections that the number of Canadians with COVID-19 could soon hit 170,000 per day — along with fresh fears of the consequences of requiring that truckers crossing into Canada be vaccinated, and continuing controversy over the Quebec government’s plan to tax those who remain unvaccinated by choice — Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos can expect a politically high-stakes cross-examination when he makes his debut appearance before the House of Commons HEALTH committee this week.

Last week, the committee held a special mid-recess meeting to debate — and, ultimately, adopt — an opposition-initiated proposal to invite both Duclos and Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam to give MPs a full rundown of how the government is responding to the latest wave of outbreaks.

The pair has also been called to testify before the House ACCESS TO INFORMATION, PRIVACY AND ETHICS committee as part of the latter’s just-launched investigation of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s use of Canadians’ cellphone data to track travel patterns during the pandemic.

As of Sunday morning, neither meeting had been added to the official schedule, but both are expected to take place via webcam later this week.

Elsewhere on the committee circuit:

  • FINANCE members kick off what’s turned out to be a wide-ranging study of the causes — and possible impact — of rising inflation. A panel discussion will include a trio of Statistics Canada experts: chief statistician Anil Arora, assistant chief Greg Peterson, and director of the consumer-prices division, Heidi Ertl. (Monday PM)
  • FISHERIES AND OCEANS members have scheduled a couple of two-hour sessions — the first in public, the second in camera — to discuss future committee business before the much-anticipated return to regularly scheduled parliamentary business at the end of the month. (Tuesday/Thursday PM)
  • Also getting a head start in planning for the upcoming sitting are NATIONAL DEFENCE, INDIGENOUS AND NORTHERN AFFAIRS, CANADIAN HERITAGE, and OFFICIAL LANGUAGES, which will hold closed-door meetings of their respective planning subcommittees. The SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AFGHANISTAN will also assemble for the first time at an in camera session on Friday afternoon.

Joly heads to Ukraine, the object of continuing Russian aggression

Amid growing fears of an imminent escalation in Russia’s territorial aggressions against Ukraine, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is heading to the heart of Ukraine to “reaffirm Canada’s steadfast support,” and to “emphasize the importance of collective security and the role it plays in upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence,” reads the communiqué issued by her office on Saturday.

The weeklong trip — which includes stops in France and Belgium — “will build on Canada’s previous and ongoing engagement, including with NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and focus on Russia’s aggression and ongoing destabilizing activities in and around Ukraine,” according to the notice.

Her first stop is Kyiv, where she’ll meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna, as well as Canadian soldiers serving in the region, “to thank them directly for their important training mission in support of the security forces of Ukraine.”

Later in the week, she’ll sit down with her French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Paris, and her Belgian equivalent, Sophie Wilmès, in Brussels, as well as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and European Union representative Josep Borrell, before returning to Canada on Saturday.

She’ll also comply with “all COVID-19-related public health rules and guidelines … before, during, and after (her) trip,” according to her office.

Also on the political radar this week:

  • Sport Minister Pascale St. Onge, who’s also responsible for the Quebec regional development agency, unveils via Zoom a fresh instalment of “financial assistance” for Baie-Comeau’s Microbrasserie Saint-Pancrace. The brewery “(specializes) in the development of craft beers representing the Côte-Nord region,” according to the notice. (Monday AM)
  • Elsewhere on the virtual hustings, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser teams up with Liberal MPs Sukh Dhaliwal, who represents the B.C. riding of Surrey—Newton, and Serge Cormier, whose riding is Acadie—Bathurst in New Brunswick, to announce funding for “organizations that deliver resettlement and settlement service to refugees and other vulnerable newcomers to Canada.” They’ll be joined by representatives from the Immigration Services Society of British Columbia and New Brunswick’s Multicultural Association Chaleur Region. (Monday AM)
  • Finally, the Bank of Canada will release the winter edition of its quarterly Business Outlook Survey, as well as the “latest results” from the rolling Canadian Survey of Consumer Expectations, which will be published online with no accompanying lockup or media briefing. (Monday AM)

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