Federal govt.'s transport committee will investigate airport delays, flight cancellations

Federal govt. asked about benchmarks for lifting vaccination mandates for travellers

OTTAWA — What will it take for the federal government to lift COVID-19 vaccine mandates? Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says it’s complicated.

Conservative and NDP members of the House of Commons health committee hammered the minister with questions about a timeline, a benchmark, or a set of conditions that would trigger an end to vaccine requirements for travellers and federal employees.

“(Canadians) want to know what it will take for the mandates to end,” said Conservative critic Michael Barrett told the committee Monday.

Duclos had no single answer, instead giving a long list of indicators the federal government is watching.

The decision, he said, will be based on everything from the vaccination rate, hospital capacity, and domestic and international epidemiology to the impact of long-COVID, the economy, and other social impacts.

While mandates are reviewed on a weekly basis, he said it would be “irresponsible” to answer whether there is a specific plan to end federal public health mandates.

“To be responsible means that you need to follow the evidence, the science and the precautionary principle and adjust or analyze policies as things evolve,” he said.

Opposition parties have increasingly called for more transparency about how the federal government makes public health decisions under its jurisdiction.

“I find that quite shocking, that there’s not an answer to be given, that it’s much too complex for the health committee and for Canadians to understand,” Conservative MP Stephen Ellis said to the minister at committee.

When asked what specific metrics could be used to decide when it’s safe enough to call down federal mandates, Duclos offered a list of different numbers instead.

He said there were probably about 20,000 new cases of COVID-19, and a 10 to 30 per cent rate of infected people developing long-COVID.

He also told the committee $23,000 is the average cost to treat a patient with COVID-19 in the hospital, that less than 60 per cent of eligible Canadians have received a booster vaccine, and that 59 people died from the virus in Canada on Sunday.

“It gives you an example of the type of numbers, people and facts that we need to consider,” he said.

The COVID-19 situation is “unstable,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told the committee.

Internationally, there has been an uptick in COVID-19 cases largely driven by a sub-mutation of the Omicron variant called BA.2.

While she does not ultimately make decisions about federal mandates, Tam suggested the government is waiting to see whether there is a resurgence in coming weeks and how provincial health systems are able to handle it.