OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole blamed the Liberal government Thursday for the fact some Canadians are casting doubt on the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine.
Over 24,000 Canadians have signed a petition headed for the House of Commons that raises doubts about the safety of vaccines, suggesting among other things that they are being rushed without appropriate safeguards and that the program amounts to "human experimentation."
O'Toole said the petition speaks to the need for more information from the government about how exactly the vaccine will be rolled out.
"A plan will actually help provide details and help educate Canadians on the research and approvals of vaccines, how they'll be stored so that can be used effectively, how they can be rolled out first to the most vulnerable, and then to to other Canadians," he said.
"This is why information is a tool just as important as rapid tests and vaccines."
To be presented in the House of Commons, a petition must first be sponsored by an MP, who in the case of the vaccine e-petition is Conservative Derek Sloan.
He told reporters Wednesday he has not read it recently and so could not say whether he agreed with every point, but people should be allowed to have their concerns brought forward via petitions in the Commons.
Sloan is one of many Conservatives who've been criticized in the past for appearing skeptical of the science behind the novel coronavirus.
Recently, one MP likened it to little more than the flu, while another questioned the severity of the death toll in Alberta.
The Liberals have accused the Conservatives of trafficking in conspiracy theories, but O'Toole shied away Thursday from directly addressing whether he supports or believes the fears being raised by the petition.
He said Canadians have questions because the government has been wrong on its COVID-19 response too many times already.
"You wonder why Canadians are worried?" he said.
"It's the secrecy and incompetence of the Trudeau government."
Dr. Theresa Tam, the country's chief public health officer, has been raising concerns about misinformation circulating around both COVID-19 and the vaccine.
On Wednesday, she told the Canadian Immunization Conference there needs to be as much transparency as possible about the vaccine, including making people aware of why the COVID-19 vaccine was developed so much faster than others.
The answer, she suggested, is the rounds of funding normally needed for vaccine development, which can take time to access, flowed far faster in this case, thanks to unprecedented global collaboration.
With that, came the ability to redesign approaches for clinical trials and allow those to move more quickly, she said.
As the vaccine is rolled out, she said, transparency is also paramount when it comes to reporting back on how effective it is, and any adverse impacts.
"We haven't heard of any serious adverse events during these clinical trials," she said.
"But I think transparency on that front, will also go along with increasing public confidence."
The Conservatives put a motion before the House of Commons Thursday that calls on the Liberals to present specific details on their vaccine rollout strategy by Dec. 16.
Among other things, the Tories want to know how each type of vaccine will be delivered, by when, and to whom.
During debate on the motion, International Development Minister Karina Gould pressed O'Toole on Sloan's petition, and asked Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner whether she believed in science.
Rempel in turn accused the Liberals of playing political games instead of answering questions.
The Liberals have been reticent to share information on the procurement and rollout of vaccines, especially when compared to other countries.
The United States has released contracts with specific vaccine suppliers, though some information, such as delivery timelines, is blacked out.
Australia has a 12-page plan that lists everything involved in the vaccine procurement and delivery program.
Canada has refused to release contracts, won't say how much it is paying any individual company, and refuses to say when or how many doses are arriving until after any individual vaccine is officially approved by Health Canada.
While the military said Thursday it had been involved in developing a vaccine rollout strategy since the spring, the extent of their involvement was largely kept under wraps until details were leaked to the media this week.
Health and military officials provided a briefing Thursday that detailed some of the logistics needed to get the vaccines across the country, taking into account the complexities of cold storage and reaching remote populations.
"The government is taking every step necessary to authorize safe and effective vaccines quickly and to distribute them to everyone who wants them," Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.
"We will be ready, but until then, we have to stay focused and steadfast in our public health measures, because, together, we will see a brighter future; one where everyone is protected from COVID-19."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.
— with files from Mia Rabson
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press