9 highlights from PM Trudeau's year-end interview with Evan Solomon

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OTTAWA — CTV’s Power Play and Question Period host Evan Solomon sat down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a wide-spanning year-end interview this week.

Trudeau discussed his regrets about the early COVID-19 response and why that doesn’t include the timing around border closures; shines new light on why the government plans to spend its way out of the recession; and offers new insight into his ethical blind spots and perspectives on other world leaders.

Here’s what you need to know.

1) Defending the vaccine strategy

Trudeau defended the federal governments vaccine procurement strategy, which has seen Canada secure access to 214 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with options to purchase 200 million more from up to seven manufacturers. If all vaccine trials pan out, that’s 414 million doses.

In the interview ,the prime minister said he “will not apologize” for the number of doses Canada has ordered, and said if we have excess, they “absolutely” would be shared with other countries who are struggling to access them.

He downplayed concerns about Americans being vaccinated at a faster rate than Canadians, suggesting that Canada’s stronger health-care system will be to our advantage, and said that lessons learned from the struggle to secure enough personal protective equipment (PPE) early on in the pandemic informed their different approach to vaccine procurement.

2) Regretting tough fight to secure PPE

When asked what his biggest regret over the last year has been, and what would he have done differently in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, Trudeau said it was the push for PPE.

“We would have done PPE quicker. We knew that we had to ensure the protection of our frontline workers. I don’t think we understood or expected to see the kind of race for PPE, the international struggle… happening on the tarmac in China and elsewhere, of people trying to get PPE. We ended up being OK, but there are stories of frontline health workers who had to bring their masks home and wash them, that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. 

3) Slamming idea of athletes jumping queue

Concerns have been raised that professional sports teams or wealthy stakeholders jumping the line to snatch up vaccine doses. While the federal government has said there’s not much they can do to stop it, Trudeau slammed the idea.

“What the NHL is trying to do, what sports teams might try to do, we’ll see what they’re actually able to do. What we know is the priority has been for vulnerable Canadians, not wealthy fit athletes,” he said.

4) Explaining stimulus spending rationale

The federal government plunged into a record deficit in an effort to prop up businesses and support Canadians through the COVID-19 shutdowns, and with the potential of a $400-billion deficit in the coming year, there are plans to spend even more to stimulate the economy rather than starting to scale back with austerity measures.

The prime minister defended his government’s approach and said that while Canadians being able to spend money doing things they are unable to under pandemic restrictions will help in the recovery, it won’t be enough.

“We need to make sure that we are there to support industries that are re-tooling both because of the pandemic to be more digital, but also understanding the need to fight climate change and be more environmentally conscious. There’s lots of things that we’re going to need to do to give that economy a boost so we can come roaring back as quickly as possible,” he said.

5) Opening up about ethics controversies

Pandemic aside, the prime minister continued to be dogged by ethical controversies surrounding himself and some of his closest advisers and cabinet ministers.

The WE Charity controversy occupied a considerable amount of the summer, and some saw the late August prorogation as a step taken to try to stamp out the affair. Asked why ethics has been an Achilles heel for him, Trudeau deflected.

Later on though in the interview he was asked what he thinks his biggest blind spot is, he replied that he doesn’t do a good enough job of focusing on “obvious” things that he doesn’t consider the “political consequences” of.

6) Committing to Senate gender parity

The Senate quietly reached gender parity in November, following the departure of Sen. Norman Doyle that month. There are currently 11 vacancies, meaning Trudeau can appoint 11 new Senators. Asked if he intends to uphold the parity reached, he said yes.

“That’s the easiest question you’ve asked me. We’re going to ensure that that gender parity remains at the centre of everything this government does,” he said.

7) Not ready to decriminalize all drugs, yet

With the opioid epidemic escalating in this country, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has advocated for the decriminalization of small possession of all drugs and wants to see the federal government grant an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act within the city’s boundaries.

Trudeau said that Health Minister Patty Hajdu is working with her B.C. counterpart, Health Minister Adrian Dix, on the matter locally, but he doesn’t think “large-scale decriminalization of drugs is where we are yet.” 

8) Dodging foreign relation, Trump questions

It was a fraught year on the international stage. Canada lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, tensions with China did not improve; and U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede or accept the results of the American presidential election brought new challenges.

During the interview, Trudeau said that China has “obviously changed significantly” over the past few years, and said his government is doing everything it can to try to see two Canadians detained in China—Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor—freed, but didn’t directly answer when asked if the Chinese government is committing genocide on the Uighurs in that country.

The prime minister was asked to give his frank assessment on Trump since he’ll soon be replaced by president-elect Joe Biden, but didn’t bite.

Trudeau also didn’t directly answer who he thought the most dangerous leader in the world is right now.

“I think there’s a number of them,” he said.

9) What he’ll miss this Christmas

This holiday season Canadians are being asked to stay apart, and not visit with their friends and families to limit the transmission of COVID-19. The prime minister was asked who he will miss the most this Christmas. He said his mom.

“My mom is awesome at Christmas time. And even though she’s two hours away, I’m not going to see her at Christmas and that hurts, but it’s what all Canadians are doing, making tough decisions to be there for each other so we can celebrate many more Christmases together,” Trudeau said. 

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