Why the Conservative Party wants answers about WHO's handling of COVID-19
MP Matt Jeneroux puts forward motion calling on WHO adviser to appear before health committee
As the World Health Organization comes under scrutiny for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the Conservative Party's health critic says the UN agency should answer to Canadians.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he's cutting funding to the WHO, accusing it of parroting inaccurate information from China in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.
Health experts warned the move could jeopardize global efforts to stop the pandemic, as the United States is the organization's largest single donor.
When asked about Trump's decision, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his support for the WHO, saying "the path through this pandemic is to base ourselves on science" and to "work with experts both domestically and internationally."
Edmonton MP Matt Jeneroux, the Conservative health critic, says he agrees the WHO has a role to play. But he says the organization needs to be more transparent about its decision-making.
He put forward a motion inviting Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and WHO adviser, to appear before the parliamentary health committee this week. But on Tuesday, Aylward cancelled that appearance. As It Happens has reached out to him for comment.
Here is part of Jeneroux's conversation with As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.
What answers were you hoping to get from Dr. Bruce Aylward from the WHO this week?
The WHO has essentially been the guiding force for how [Canada's chief public health officer] Dr. [Theresa] Tam made decisions in terms of this pandemic. And we want to ask questions as to why certain decisions were made and the timing.
What are those questions?
If you look back into early January … the WHO was recommending that there was no clear evidence [of] human-to-human transmission [of COVID-19]. Then 10 days later, the decision was there was evidence of that —which is, you know, fair.
But again, I want to ask Mr. Aylward why those decisions were made when … some countries … such as Taiwan ... were providing that evidence back in December to the WHO.
The closing of the borders. I want to ask the questions as to why the decision to recommend that the borders stay open and then eventually the decision was made to close them.
With masks, we just saw last week a decision that now masks are being recommended to wear out in public places.
I think a lot of those questions are reasonable questions that Canadians have a right to know, and we want to get some answers to those.
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The scientific evidence was [and] is changing all the time. The WHO and public health agencies said they're always working off the best evidence of the time, and that things might change. So when you bring up your questions about human-to-human transmission, the WHO's answer would be: Well, at the time we were working on the best evidence we had.
Absolutely, and that's fair. We want to hear Mr. Aylward provide that evidence to committee when there was evidence at the time from other countries that were saying, well, it is human-to-human transmission.
Why was a decision made is essentially, I think, a fair question to ask Mr. Aylward. He may have a tremendous response for that. But again, without having met the committee, it's difficult to really know.
Some of the concerns you have raised and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has raised are common to the concerns U.S. President Donald Trump laid out this week when he froze American funding to the World Health Organization. What do you think of the American president's decision?
Our intent is to come in and have questions asked and answered at committee.
Certainly, [we] aren't going as far as requesting the withdrawal of funding. You know, it's the president's prerogative — they're the No.1 contributor to the WHO — to ask these questions as well.
Do agree with the concerns that the American president has over the WHO?
I think there's a lot of questions to be asked about the WHO and I was certainly trying to reserve judgment until we get a representative from the WHO to actually explain some of these.
I don't know if I would go as far as saying we agree with everything that the president says when it comes to the WHO, because quite frankly, I haven't been following everything that he said.
But I think at the end of the day, we want to get answers to questions of why decisions were made here in Canada.
Do you think Canada should consider freezing funds to the World Health Organization?
We're significantly down the chain of funding where there's a number of other countries ahead of us.
I certainly think there's a benefit to having an organization like the WHO, but I think it's also an equal benefit to having that transparency related to that.
The WHO had been sounding the alarm about COVID-19 before Chinese officials had even started publicizing it. They sounded more alarms more frequently and earlier than any national government did. What more do you think the WHO could have done to stem the tide of COVID-19?
There's a role for [the] WHO.
The timing of when they called this a global pandemic [on March 11], and at that point in time, there was significant pressure on them to call it a global pandemic coming from other countries. We're curious as to the timing of that as well.
I think, again, having some of these questions answered, and in terms of that timing specifically, will be important because, you know, our ... non-partisan committee [was] struck with the sole purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We want to find the answers in real time now, but also prepare for any potential pandemics and also prepare for life after this pandemic, which we all know will be significantly different.
One of the areas that has been criticized in terms of the WHO is its data, and it has been, in some corners, said to be inaccurate. But that data comes directly from individual countries. … So should we be blaming the WHO for that, or rather the countries that provided the data?
You've hit on something that has had a lot of concerns and things that we've heard raised with when it comes to data and the transparency of data.
I go on the WHO website probably two or three times a day just looking at the updated data and relying on it. And wanting to make sure that that's correct data, I think, is a fair and reasonable thing, not just for Canadians, but for everyone to understand.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.