An inquiry into Canada's handling of COVID-19? It's warranted post-pandemic, says Hajdu

The minister who’s been at the helm of the federal government’s health response to the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year now says that a “full investigation” into Canada’s response is required, at the “appropriate time.”

“We are still in a crisis and so our focus remains right now on getting Canadians and Canada through this global health crisis… And when the time is right, our government will be very open to examining very thoroughly the response of this country to the COVID-19 crisis,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters on Tuesday.

Her comments come in response to Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole pledging Tuesday that if a Conservative government is elected, he’d launch a national public inquiry “to examine every aspect of the government’s pandemic response.”

O’Toole said that while Canada should focus now on getting through the pandemic, when it is over Canadians need answers and to implement the lessons learned. “We need to know what worked and what didn't. We need complete transparency and accountability,” he said.

Hajdu wouldn’t confirm that the Liberals would back a public inquiry, but said that the intent would be to have all Canadians participate.

“We're open to, you know, an inquiry that is as deep as necessary… that gets to how our country can be better prepared to global health threats in the future,” she said.

In the interim, O’Toole is pushing for the federal government to appoint a “special monitor” within the office of the auditor general to track Canada’s ongoing pandemic response. O’Toole said this independent role within the auditor general’s office would “make sure in real time we examine decisions made so that there could be a transparent examination in the future.”

A recent report from the federal auditor general found that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) “underestimated” the potential impact of COVID-19, and was not adequately prepared to respond in the early days of the pandemic after failing to heed decades-long recommendations for changes.

Some of these recommendations not taken dated back to 1999.

“I am discouraged that the public health agency did not address long-standing issues, some of which were raised repeatedly for more than two decades. These issues negatively affected the sharing of surveillance information between the agency and the provinces and territories, during the pandemic,” said Auditor General Karen Hogan when her report was unveiled on March 25.

“What matters is that this never, ever happens again… We must pledge to learn from the mistakes made,” said the Conservative leader.