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Ontario gives sole-sourced contract to Deloitte to support COVID-19 vaccination campaign – CBC.ca

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Ontario’s government has awarded a sole-sourced contract to consulting firm Deloitte to support the province’s vaccine task force, CBC News has learned. 

The Ministry of Health confirmed the contract but did not answer basic questions about it, including the cost and the specific nature of the work that Deloitte is hired to do. 

“Given the importance and the speed at which the province had to prepare and implement our vaccination rollout, Deloitte was awarded a contract following a single source procurement, utilizing an allowable exception due to extraordinary circumstances,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson in an email to CBC News.

Deloitte “brought on-the-ground implementation and specialized expertise that we needed to augment our team’s capacity,” the spokesperson said.

“Ontario’s vaccine rollout is the largest logistical undertaking by our province in a century.” 

CBC News emailed Deloitte Canada’s media relations staff late Wednesday afternoon to seek further information about the Ontario contract, but has not received a reply. 

Francesca Passer, a registered pharmacist technician, prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Ontario’s vaccine task force is led by retired general Rick Hillier, who is being paid $20,000 per month. The government has allocated $135 million to its vaccine program for the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31.    

A government official told CBC News a single-source procurement is different from a sole-source contract. 

The official said three firms were contacted about their ability to begin work immediately and assessed for their expertise in carrying out the contract. Two firms met the requirements and Deloitte was recommended, the official said. 

Deloitte has been contracted widely by governments in Canada to work on various logistical aspects of the COVID-19 response, including vaccinations. 

In January, the federal government gave Deloitte a $16-million contract to develop a new technology system to track and manage the distribution of vaccines across the country. 

That system, called the national vaccine management IT platform, is now in operation. The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that federal officials are confident it won’t face the same problems as software Deloitte created for tracking the distribution of vaccines in the U.S.

Quebec turned to Deloitte in October for a one-year $12.4 million contract to use the company’s Health Connect system for booking COVID-19 testing appointments, after sacking the firm that was previously involved. 

Retired general Rick Hillier is chairing Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The Ford government’s use of consulting firms to advise on Ontario’s COVID-19 response came under scrutiny from the province’s auditor general in November.

The cabinet office and the ministries of finance, education and environment gave McKinsey & Company four sole-sourced contracts last year worth a total of $4.8 million. For one of the contracts, the firm designed Ontario’s “command table” structure for advising cabinet on pandemic-related measures.

The province’s target is to administer 2.3 million doses of vaccines by the end of March. As of Tuesday, the latest date for which figures were available, Ontario had administered 412,000 doses. 

Canada’s vaccine supplies from manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna in the past month have fallen far short of initial forecasts from the federal government. Despite the shortages, Ontario’s government said it was on track to hit its target of vaccinating all willing residents of the province’s long-term care homes by Wednesday.

The country is on track to receive and distribute approximately 400,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week and 475,000 doses the following week, the military commander leading vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada, Maj.-Gen Dany Fortin, said Tuesday.

Ontario’s allotted share is about 38 per cent of federal vaccine shipments. 

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Health Canada approves use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca

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Health Canada has approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, clearing the way for millions of more inoculations in Canada.

Canada’s regulatory experts had been assessing the submission from AstraZeneca and Oxford University for safety and efficacy since October, and announced their approval Friday morning.

“AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is indicated for active immunization of individuals 18 years of age and older for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019,” reads their website.

“The efficacy of the vaccine was estimated to be 62.1 per cent. Overall, there are no important safety concerns and the vaccine was well tolerated by participants.”

Canada has secured access to 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some jurisdictions, notably France, have restricted the vaccine to people under the age of 65 despite the World Health Organization’s insistence that the product is safe and effective for all age groups. Health Canada said it has no immediate safety concerns for those 65 and older.

‘Potential benefit’

The regulator said the clinical trial results “were too limited to allow a reliable estimate of vaccine efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older.”

“Efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older is supported by immunogenicity data, emerging real world evidence and post-market experience in regions where the vaccine has been deployed, which suggest at this point in time a potential benefit and no safety concerns,” said the approval.

“Efficacy in this age group will be updated as additional data becomes available from currently ongoing trials.”

Health officials are expected to give a technical briefing on the approval at 10 a.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet along with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and her deputy Dr. Howard Njoo will give an update at 11:30 a.m. ET. CBC News will carry it live.

Regulator still reviewing 2 other vaccine candidates 

Earlier this week, Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, told the House of Commons health committee that the regulator has received all the necessary scientific information from the company but was still looking into questions about labelling and the product monograph — the information disseminated by Health Canada to medical professionals about how and when a vaccine should be administered and in what groups.

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are already being rolled out in Canada.

Unlike those two shots, which are based on mRNA technology, the AstraZeneca uses more conventional viral vector technology.

Health Canada is reviewing two other vaccines: one from Johnson & Johnson and another from Novavax.

Other countries — notably Australia, the European Union and the United Kingdom —  have already authorized AstraZeneca for use in their jurisdictions.

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U.S. ticketing company's box office bust costing grassroots Canadian artists – CBC.ca

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Community theatre director Nicole Jennissen believed she did everything right staging her original play, Love in the Time of COVID, in September 2020.

It was written as a series of vignettes, keeping actors in two-or-three-person bubbles. It was performed outside obeying health guidelines. And it was completed inexpensively for non-profit Tumbleweed Theatre of Brooks, Alta.

“In fact, the only two lines on the budget were masks and hand sanitizer,” Jennissen said. 

But the romantic comedy became a tragedy.

Nicole Jennissen, left, acts in a scene from Love in the Time of COVID with fellow performer Cassandra Socchia. (Nicole Jennissen)

Tumbleweed used Seattle-based Brown Paper Tickets to handle ticketing online to avoid cash but Brown Paper is facing complaints and legal action over allegations of not paying collected ticket proceeds.

Jennissen alleged Brown Paper owes $2,030 for Love in the Time of COVID. Despite repeatedly contacting the company, she has no idea when or if Tumbleweed will be paid.

“It’s absolutely defeating,” she said. “We put all of this effort in and the money that our patrons expected to come to us is not sitting with us.”

A screenshot from Jennisson’s Brown Paper Tickets account shows the $2,030 earned from Love in the Time of Covid. (Nicole Jennissen)

Other Canadian artists and organizations alleged they too are owed money from Brown Paper or their audiences are owed refunds for events cancelled by the pandemic.

Washington State is suing, claiming it has received 583 complaints and the company owes more than $6.75 million US  across the United States. 

The state’s attorney general said 80,000 people in the U.S. may be affected by the company’s conduct.

Artists and organizations in Canada, having spent up to 11 months trying to get answers from the company, are wondering when or if they or their audiences will ever see the money they say Brown Paper collected on their behalf. 

A scene from Love in the Time of Covid, staged in a city park in Brooks, Alta. (Nicole Jennissen)

Popular with grassroots artists

CBC News called and emailed Brown Paper several times to comment on this story but received no reply.

In a September statement, the company promised better communication.

“While we can’t offer an estimated timeline for your specific refund at this moment, our team has been and continues to initiate full refunds to ticket holders… and pay event organizers,” the statement read.

“Like many businesses, we were unprepared for a crisis of this scale but we are making headway.”

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, seen here in 2017, alleged in a statement that 80,000 people in the U.S. have been impacted by Brown Paper Tickets’ conduct. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Brown Paper is popular with smaller arts organizations for its low fees. 

Audience members purchase their ticket from Brown Paper online, then, after the event, Brown Paper passes collected money to event organizers, minus a service charge.

Jennissen said $2,030 might not seem like a lot but Tumbleweed relies solely on ticket sales for funding.

“When we can’t do a lot of shows… that’s a huge cut for us,” she said. “This is going to affect the ability for us to do shows.”

Brown Paper Tickets has posted statements online apologizing for poor communication and is blaming the inability to pay out some events on a rash of pandemic-related cancellations. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Festival hurting

Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival artistic director Robert Remington said his festival sold $20,415 of advance tickets through Brown Paper for their June 2020 jamboree on Vancouver Island. 

In April 2020, the pandemic forced the festival to cancel. Organizers told Brown Paper to issue refunds, which should have taken two to six weeks.

Omie Wise performs at the 2019 Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival. Remington says money lost due to the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 festivals might impact the growing festival’s lineups going forward. (Robert Remington)

Almost 11 months later, no one has been paid back, Remington said, so the festival is reimbursing ticket holders from its own contingency fund.

“We just feel an obligation to our fans to take care of them,” Remington said. “For an all-volunteer, community-run festival… $20,000 is a lot of money.”

Refunding the tickets might mean a scaled-back festival going forward.

Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival artistic director Robert Remington says the festival will be back but might have to hire fewer headliners. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

‘It’s really frustrating’

Victoria-based roots rocker Stephen Fearing was to play a gig in March 2020. Brown Paper sold tickets online.

The show was cancelled over the pandemic. His promoter told Brown Paper to refund ticket buyers.

Some fans passed on a refund to donate $2,200 to Fearing but he still hasn’t seen a cent.

Musician Stephen Fearing said he is amazed by the generosity of his fans but angry he never received their donation. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“Their generosity never got to me,” Fearing said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Marc Jenkins, another Victoria-based musician, had two Bob Dylan tribute shows at Herman’s Jazz Club in May 2020.

The shows were cancelled with $700 of tickets sold through Brown Paper. No refunds have yet been given.

Musician Marc Jenkins said any donations from his cancelled shows in Victoria would be helpful. The band is made up of independent musicians who have struggled for work since the pandemic started. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“The most frustrating part is just being left in the dark and having to answer emails from folks,” Jenkins said. 

“I never got the money from them in the first place. I’m just standing in the middle getting yelled at.”

Jenkins said some of his audience members wanted to donate their money as well but he hasn’t been able to confirm how many and he hasn’t received any cash.

“It might not seem like a lot of money… but it is important,” Jenkins said. “It’s tough when there’s not many gigs coming in.”

Marc Jenkins said his cancelled shows at Hermann’s Jazz Club have led to numerous angry emails from would-be audience members unable to get a refund. (CHEK News)

Legal action

The lawsuit filed by Washington State is presently in the discovery stage, a spokesperson from the attorney general’s office said this week.

While individuals are not eligible to join in attorney general enforcement actions, the spokesperson said, the attorney general’s office “routinely” seeks court orders for financial restitution for all impacted consumers under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

At least two separate class action lawsuits have been filed in the U.S., but CBC hasn’t seen any that are certified.

Pittsburgh-based law firm Carlson Lynch is behind one.

“It’s sort of like musical chairs… when the music stopped, they were holding all this money,” said lawyer Jamisen Etzel.

“Where did the money go?”

CBC Vancouver’s Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

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Head of Canada's largest pension plan received COVID-19 vaccine in Dubai: memo – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The head of Canada’s largest pension fund received a COVID-19 vaccination while on a “very personal” trip to Dubai, he told staff in an email Thursday night.

Mark Machin disclosed the information in an internal memo after the Wall Street Journal reported he flew to the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, where he received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is awaiting the second dose.

Machin said in the email viewed by The Canadian Press that he remains in Dubai with his partner “for many reasons, some of which are deeply personal.”

“This was a very personal trip and was undertaken after careful consideration and consultation,” the memo reads.

CPP Investments did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday evening.

The federal government is actively discouraging Canadians from travelling abroad and recently implemented strict quarantine measures for those returning home.

Machin told staff he followed all travel protocols related to his role as head of the pension fund while on the trip.

“This trip was intended to be very private and I am disappointed it has become the focus of public attention and expected criticism,” he wrote.

Several politicians and health-care officials have become high profile flashpoints of public anger in recent months for leaving the country despite public health advice to the contrary.

Among them, the former CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre is now embroiled in litigation after his travel to the U.S. prompted the hospital to terminate his contract.

Rod Phillips, Ontario’s former finance minister, resigned from his post in late December after taking a personal trip to St. Barts.

CPP Investments, which had $475.7 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, invests money on behalf of retired and active employees covered by the Canada Pension Plan.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that while CPPIB is an independent organization, the revelation is “very troubling.”

“The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad,” Katherine Cuplinskas said in an emailed statement.

“We were not made aware of this travel and further questions should be directed to the CPPIB on this matter.”

Machin, who has been in his current role since 2016, joined CPP Investments in 2012. Prior to joining the pension fund manager, he spent 20 years at investment bank Goldman Sachs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021.

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