Imagine being the woman in charge of Canada’s medical response to COVID-19 and you are too busy to answer questions from the elected officials you report to.
That’s the position we find ourselves in with Dr. Theresa Tam.
While Tam appears at daily media briefings, journalists — despite how highly we may think of ourselves — are not the people’s representatives. That even applies to journalists working for the state broadcaster.
Tam has ducked out of recent requests to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health but did find time for a rather cozy interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton.
“How do you feel when you hear those kinds of comments?” Barton asked Tam about comments her critics have made. It would have been good if she had asked point-blank if Canada relied too much on the WHO even though the 2018 planning document by Tam’s own Public Health Agency had said not to follow the WHO blindly.
“Canada’s response to the novel/pandemic virus will relate to its presence and activity levels in this country, which may not coincide with the global picture. Therefore, the WHO global phases will not be used to describe the situation in Canada or be used as triggers for action in Canadian jurisdictions,” the August 2018 report states.
Barton didn’t follow up on anything as hard hitting as that.
“Are you a worrier?” Barton asked. Nothing wrong with that sort of question if it is part of a broader interview that also asks difficult questions, but CBC’s interview — supposedly the most in-depth Tam has done — felt more like a PR exercise with one state agency profiling another.
“It seems that your thinking on that has evolved a little bit,” Barton said to Tam on the controversial issue of closing borders.
Tam had argued for months against closing borders.
She cited WHO guidance. Her statements were then parroted by Trudeau and his cabinet ministers right up until they changed their minds and closed the borders, a move the PM had called knee-jerk and wrong just days before. Yet when he changed his mind, he cited the best medical advice, meaning Tam.
Barton should have pressed her.
I’ve done more than my share of interviews like this and there are a variety of ways to handle them.
I’m not for a moment suggesting it should have been a hostile interview. Those can often elicit less information than a cordial one, but when the woman whose advice literally has life and death consequences, it shouldn’t be the lovefest we saw.
Difficult questions needed to be asked and answered.
Which brings us back to Tam appearing before the MPs on the health committee, something she last did on March 11. She was supposed to appear on March 31 but ducked out and hasn’t been back since.
That means that since the outbreak of COVID-19 really began to be fully felt by Canadians, MPs have not had a chance to question the country’s top doctor on the advice she is giving government.
Tam had time for the CBC and their gentle questions; she surely must have time to speak with MPs and take questions from our elected representatives. If she can’t handle them or doesn’t think they are worth her while, then she should realize she’s in the wrong job and step down.
Being at the top requires accountability and so far we’ve seen little of that from Tam and her team.