Trudeau, O’Toole, Singh and Paul answer questions on building on our COVID co-operation, encouraging biotech growth and fighting global protectionism

Trudeau, O’Toole, Singh and Paul answer questions on building on our COVID co-operation, encouraging biotech growth and fighting global protectionism
The Star asked some of Canada’s top business leaders what they want to know from the candidates vying to be the country’s next prime minister.

In the third instalment of this ongoing series, three business luminaries posed questions to the leaders of the five major federal political parties. The Star received answers from the Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic and Green party leaders.

In their own words, here are questions from Mohamad Fakih, community leader and CEO of Paramount Fine Foods; Francesco Bellini, who co-founded BioChem Pharma and is now chair and CEO of Klox Technologies and chair of BELLUS Health; and Jimmy Pattison, long-time entrepreneur who is chairman and CEO of The Jim Pattison Group.

(Questions and answers have been edited for length.)

Question from Mohamad Fakih:

We learned a lot about each other and about our country during the pandemic. COVID-19 exposed a number of our weaknesses while also confirming some of our strengths. It became clear that Canadians most in need, those experiencing food insecurity, poverty, a lack of decent housing, or precarious employment are extremely vulnerable in a health and economic crisis – even more than usual. And businesses, large and small, came to depend upon the helping hand of government in order to survive. At the same time, Canadians came together, along with business and government to try to ensure we would all make it through to the other side of the pandemic safely.

How do we build upon this renewed spirit of co-operation — with each other and between government and business — to create an economic recovery that is both strong and fair and addresses problems such as homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, long-term care and child care?

Answer from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau:

A re-elected Liberal government will restore employment to pre-pandemic levels — going beyond one million jobs — and ensure that the jobs that are created are good, well-paying jobs.

We will also reform the EI system so that it is responsive to the nature of today’s work, introduce 10 paid sick days, and train up to 50,000 new personal support workers with a guaranteed minimum wage of at least $25 per hour.

Most significantly, we will introduce $10 a day child care across the country and create new child care spaces. This will be a dramatic reduction in costs for families and significantly more than what the Conservatives are offering. Our investments in early learning and child care alone will add 1.2 per cent of GDP and help bring nearly a quarter of a million people into the workforce. Our plan has the potential to be the biggest economic boost since NAFTA.

Answer from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole:

For the past six years, the Liberal government failed to address Canada’s housing crisis and provide parents with a child care plan. Our plan recognizes that affordable, accessible housing and child care is more than just a ‘nice to have’ — it’s an imperative. No Canadian will be left behind in our pandemic recovery.

Working collaboratively from coast to coast to coast, Canada’s Recovery Plan will recover the million jobs lost in the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic and get as many people back to work in good jobs, in every part of Canada, as quickly as possible.

Answer from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh:

Strong social programs and public health help everyone and give a country’s businesses a competitive advantage. The OECD agrees.

A universal pharmacare program, dental care, and mental health care would save businesses money and help them attract and retain qualified workers. Childcare will boost labour force participation, providing direct employment and income.  

Cooperation will be key as we come out of the pandemic. Government investments will be needed to help people cut their emissions and to create jobs for workers impacted by these changes. Together, we can diversify our economy and build a sustained economic recovery.

Answer from Green party leader Annamie Paul:

Cross-party collaboration is a flagship Green value. The Green Party of Canada believes hyperpartisanship is preventing us from taking meaningful action to address urgent issues Canadians are facing. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Greens have called for an intergovernmental rapid response task force, led by health experts, which would be activated when facing an emergency to ensure a co-ordinated and expedient response. The same approach is urgently needed for an economic recovery that ensures a Green future, life with dignity, and a just society for all in Canada. The Green Party will work collaboratively with all parties and levels of government and with civil society groups and businesses to ensure a co-ordinated response that best meets the needs of all people in Canada.

Question from Francesco Bellini:

As founder of several Canadian biopharmaceutical companies, including BioChem Pharma (sold in 2001 to British-based Shire Pharmaceuticals), I have worked collaboratively with governments in Canada and around the world to accelerate the development and commercialization of drugs and treatments. BioChem was one of the few Canadian companies undertaking research and development in Canada and we built highly successful diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccine businesses. However, in recent years, with few exceptions, the environment in Canada has discouraged anything other than basic research from being undertaken in our country. During the pandemic, we saw how Canada struggled in the early months to procure vaccines and that it no longer has any meaningful know-how or domestic production capability.

What will you do to ensure a more favourable environment for the innovative pharmaceutical and biotech industries in Canada so they can attract foreign investment, talent and know-how, form valuable partnerships and encourage successful development for the benefit of our health-care system and overall economy?


The pandemic brought into sharp focus the decades-long decline in our domestic biomanufacturing sector and we have taken strong action to reverse this trend. We have invested more than $3 billion in projects such as Sanofi Pasteur’s future facility in Toronto (to produce Fluzone vaccines) and Resilience Biotechnologies’ mRNA facility in Mississauga, and to advance the vaccine development and production that companies like Medicago in Quebec City and AbCellera Biologics in Vancouver are doing.

Our demonstrated commitment to the sector helped to attract Moderna to choose Canada for its first facility outside of the United States, where they will now be building a cutting-edge mRNA facility.

Taken together, these investments show the rebuilding of a biomanufacturing and life sciences ecosystem here in Canada that will make us an even more innovative and attractive market and ensure that we are better prepared for future pandemics.


We have a detailed plan to make making Canada one of the best places in the world for pharmaceutical research and development, especially when it comes to producing vaccines and medicines. We won’t allow Liberal regulation to drive pharmaceutical companies out of Canada anymore, which left us near the back of the line for vaccines and risks leaving us at the back of the line for new medicines. Instead, we will negotiate constructively with the industry to reduce drug prices while providing long-term regulatory certainty.

We will overhaul Canada’s Pandemic Plan and preparedness to include domestic vaccine research, trials development, and manufacturing capacity and readiness. We will focus on novel vaccine platforms, keeping and attracting the best minds in Canada, and ensuring secure access to supply during pandemic scenarios. Together with universities, the private sector, provinces and territories, and international partner countries, Conservatives will build for the future.


New Democrats are the only party that will expand our health-care system to include prescription medication. Justin Trudeau promised this in 2019 and did not mention it in his budget or his platform.

A national pharmacare program will improve our health-care system, save people across Canada hundreds of dollars per year and eliminate the need for employers to offer expensive prescription drug plans.

Pharmacare will be complimented by a re-established public drug and vaccine manufacturing strategy, ensuring a resilient domestic supply for future public health emergencies. This will help us get past the failure we found during the pandemic when we were forced to rely on foreign corporations and governments to take care of us.


Cuts under previous governments have eroded Canada’s ability to compete in the innovation sphere, leading to gaps in our ability to prepare for and deal with the pandemic. Investment in biotech is critical to build our capacity to deal with future pandemics and health events. The Green Party will increase R&D (research and development) funding to 2.5 per cent of GDP, in line with the OECD average, and increase funding to the granting councils to $2.3 billion.

Additionally, Canada needs to improve its track record with growing and retaining innovative companies, including biotech firms. The Green Party will increase funding and support for private sector R&D in Canadian innovation and strengthen access to private funding by Canadian venture capital and retain ownership of IP Iintellectual property) in Canada. Creating a strong ecosystem here means homegrown innovations can remain in Canada for the economic and social benefit of Canadians and global citizens alike.

Question from Jimmy Pattison:

Canada depends on global trade. Our main products — lumber, seafood, minerals, oil, gas and agricultural commodities — are all exported. But the world is becoming more protectionist. The U.S. has imposed tariffs on Canadian lumber and cancelled the Keystone pipeline expansion, and China has reduced its purchases of Canadian soybeans, peas and canola oil.

What will you do to fight against global protectionism and protect important trade routes for Canada?


Under our leadership, Canada became the only G7 country to have free trade agreements with all other G7 countries.

When the United States unilaterally and unjustly imposed steel tariffs on Canada, the Liberal government countered with retaliatory tariffs dollar-for-dollar. Erin O’Toole called this policy “dumb,” yet our support for the sector was critical to ensuring its protection, as was our relentless advocacy with our southern neighbour which in turn saw the U.S. tariffs get dropped.

We believe in the importance of free trade, as seen in our renegotiation of a strengthened NAFTA. Some countries may be turning inward but we produce and create much of what the world needs and need to continue to capitalize on that.

If re-elected, we will establish a new federal hub to help Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs take full advantage of the opportunities created by trade agreements. We will also launch a new comprehensive Asia-Pacific strategy to deepen diplomatic, economic, and defence partnerships in the region.


We’ve heard time and again that Canada needs to improve existing trade deals before pursuing new ones. We also know that with the rise of the Chinese Communist regime, Canada has a moral duty to stand alongside our democratic partners. Canada’s Conservatives have a strong track record on trade, and understand that free trade drives Canadian jobs, investment, and strategic partnerships with our allies. But we should look to strengthen free trade with free countries.

Canada’s Recovery Plan outlines our extensive path to protect important trade routes and strengthen partnerships with global allies; including our plan to pursue a CANZUK (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom) agreement, build deeper ties with India as part of an Indo-Pacific strategy, set rules for digital trade , and animate the full potential of the Canada-UK trade deal. This will help Canadians get back to work, advance Canadian products and services globally, and enhance our economic growth.


Trade is essential for our economic success, but it only benefits Canadians when it respects human rights, protects the environment and puts workers and communities first.

I will always defend Canadian workers in trade negotiations and fight against unfair tariffs. Transparency is necessary in trade negotiations to ensure that our trade partners are upholding human rights and protecting the environment.

An NDP government will consult Canadians on major trade deals and ensure that any deal is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We cannot separate the work of reconciliation, tackling climate change and protecting Canadian workers from the trade deals that we sign.


In an increasingly multi-polar world, in which a growing number of powerful countries eschew human rights and environmental protection, Canada needs to reconsider trade and diplomatic alliances that have made us overly dependent upon traditional allies and authoritarian states, while restraining our ability to take principled stands in defence of our values. The Green Party will pursue an international fair trade policy centred on the promotion of environmental, social and governance principles, a more egalitarian regime for the exchange of intellectual property and clean technologies, and a narrowing of the equality gap between high- and low-income countries. We will also take steps to ensure that Canada-based companies operating abroad do so in a manner that is consistent with our values.

By sending clear and consistent signals to markets, investors, and employees in Canada and abroad, we can provide the predictability they require to be confident about where we are taking our economy.



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