Newly leaked emails show that senior staffers in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office spoke privately with the staffers of Liberal cabinet minister about how to keep information on the COVID response secret from Canadians. The emails stem from June, 2020, according to Global News.
The government is alleged to have been intentionally vague and unspecific in their communication to the public about the obtaining of supplies, and in an effort to curb public critique of their efforts.
The email exchanges reveal that government liability was a primary concern. An email read: "A detailed announcement [would] mean that the government could be held accountable to show that funds were spent exactly as announced (reducing flexibility to move money across buckets if necessary)."
In sharing this advice gleaned from the Privy Council Office, A Trudeau staffer said that the government should hold back details on public spending lest the government be held accountable for the details therein contained. That correspondence was shared with Trudeau's communications team.
In announcing the government procurement of approximately $4 billion in personal protective equipment, from masks, medicals gowns and gloves to "vital ICU equipment," the tone was intentionally vague so that the government would be harder to pin down on the details.
It was on March 27 that Trudeau said "We know that transparency around the investments we're making to support Canadians is important not just from a democratic and parliamentary principle, but it's also important in terms of giving confidence to Canadians that this government will be there for them while they do what is necessary to keep themselves, their families, their neighbours safe and ensure we can come out of this stronger than ever before."
While Trudeau mentioned the purchase in a speech, he left out the sum, as appears to have been recommended. This despite Trudeau's insistence on government transparency and the necessity of clarity on just what actions the government was undertaking.
In response to these allegations of intentionally vaguery, Trudeau spokesperson Alex Wellstead said in a written response that "Throughout this entire pandemic, we have continued to share information on the specific costings of programs and purchases—including personal protective equipment and medical supplies—once they are finalized and once that information would not impact the government's ability to procure these lifesaving supplies to help keep Canadians safe."
Contract details were also blocked from release, including how contracts were awarded during the pandemic, which was outside of the normal bidding process. Instead, through the use of the NSE designation, contracts were awarded to providers without competition.
It wasn't only about figures that the government intentionally gave out less detailed information than they had. There was a delay in the release of statistics about the quantity of PPE on hand, both that which was procured and that which was already stockpiled. This was made clear in emails from Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement. Information was delayed in that case until such time as Anand issued a public update.
The release of additional information was delayed in order to give time for that information to get better, such as when information on the paltry number of masks wasn't released to give the supply time to be enhanced with additional shipments. This was per a June 25 email exchange, wherein the theory that the information should be delayed was called "crazy enough it just might work..." by Anand's director of communications.
The office later told Global News that the information was not delayed for the purposes of obfuscation, but that the office was "...making sure the due diligence had been carried out so that when we did release this update on June 30th, the numbers accurately represented the situation."