National Post (National Edition)

PM refuses to reveal call with Modi


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked a simple question Wednesday. "Have you reached out to Prime Minister Modi or will you be reaching out to Prime Minister Modi to ensure Canada can get (vaccine) supply from India?” Trudeau was asked by a reporter at a press conference Wednesday morning.

It was an important question, because India’s Serum Institute, described as having the world’s largest vaccine facility, has a contract to supply doses of the AstraZenec­a COVID-19 vaccine for global distributi­on, as well as for domestic use in India.

Canadian health officials are reviewing the AstraZenec­a vaccine for approval to be used here and the government has ordered millions of doses. It would be good to know if we can count on India’s supplies, given the problems Ottawa has faced with getting shipments from Pfizer and Moderna.

So, a simple question, but Trudeau failed to answer it. Yet, hours later any Canadian curious about the answer could find it out from such places as The Times of India, the Hindustan Times or the Twitter feed of Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister.

That seemed somewhat odd. The question was not intended to trip up the prime minister, it was merely asking for some informatio­n.

Trudeau's answer talked of working with allies, partnering with India to fight COVID, building strong relationsh­ips between the two countries, growing the global economy, and creating opportunit­ies for everyone.

Absent from the answer was, well, the answer. Had he reached out to Modi?

Two hours later, Modi tweeted, “Was happy to receive a call from my friend @ JustinTrud­eau. Assured him that India would do its best to facilitate supplies of COVID vaccines sought by Canada.”

Such clarity was repeated by The Times of India, “PM

Modi speaks to Canada's Trudeau,” and reiterated by the Hindustan Times, “PM Modi speaks to Justin Trudeau.”

One might marvel at the forthright­ness of the Indian press or Modi, but really, is it a state secret who our prime minister is talking to? Why the obfuscatio­n?

And here is the problem. If the prime minister refuses to give a straight answer to a simple question then how are we to find out the answer to anything?

If the prime minister had replied, “I will be phoning my pal Modi in a couple of hours,” then one could expect a followup question to be, “Why?”

However, if the first question is never answered, then the second question is never asked.

So why has the prime minister reached out to Modi?

Could the supply of the 20 million AstraZenec­a doses

Canada has ordered be in danger? India produces 60 per cent of the world's vaccines and is busily pumping out tens of millions of doses of Covishield (the local name for the AstraZenec­a vaccine.)

Did Trudeau press Modi to ensure we got the 20 million? Did he ask, Oliver Twist-like, for more? Did he request they be delivered earlier on account of being such good allies? Perhaps he wanted to be signed up to India's vaccine diplomacy?

India has given tens of millions of doses to the developing world. Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanista­n, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have all been helped so far. Africa is to get 10 million doses and several other countries, including Mongolia, Oman, the Philippine­s, and Bahrain, are likely to get vaccines.

It may be that Trudeau wants to be added to that list of countries because of the severe delays to our vaccine rollout. A few weeks ago, Canada was among the top 10 countries who had administer­ed the most vaccines to its people.

Now a Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker has us at 38th place, with 3.06 Canadians being vaccinated per 100 people.

In less than two weeks, we are expecting a shipment of Moderna vaccine. It was to be almost 250,000 doses. But a week after being told it would be less than 250,000 we still have no idea how many doses we are going to get.

The prime minister continues to reassure us that vaccines are on the way — six million vaccinated by end of March, everyone by end of September, he says. But in truth we just don't know exactly how many doses we are getting or from where.

Perhaps we could ask the prime minister of India.

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