Anita Anand is calling the shots

Anita Anand is calling the shots

She was a low-profile MP with an obscure portfolio. Suddenly, she became Canada’s most important public servant: the person in charge of acquiring vaccines

So let’s start with the obvious: where are the vaccines? After a quick start, things slowed down fast.
Yes, Pfizer decided to scale up its European production facility, which is something we have no control over. But we’re expecting to receive six million doses by the end of March—four million from Pfizer and two million from Moderna. We remain on track to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot by September.

If this latest setback was due to forces beyond your control­, what’s to say something similar won’t happen again?
We have agreements with seven manufacturers, so if one supply chain breaks down, we have options. Right now those are Pfizer and Moderna, but we are anticipating the approval of other vaccines. We have contracts for 390 million vaccines, which is more per capita than any other country in the world.

Is it ethical to over-acquire when some countries are scrambling to cover their population?
We joined an initiative called Covax to ensure excess vaccines reach the countries in greatest need. We’ll share what we have. Until everyone is vaccinated around the world, no one is safe.

Doug Ford said that if he were in charge of acquiring the vaccines, he’d be up Pfizer’s “ying-yang so far with a firecracker.” Is that your approach?
My approach is aggressive, very hands-on. I’m on the phone day and night. I’m in the meetings, I’m reading the contracts. That may come from the many years I spent as a law professor.

Right! Did chasing students for papers prepare you for this gig?
Let’s just say that when I ask a question, I expect an answer.

You were appointed minister of public services and procurement in November 2019. At that point, you thought the job would entail what?
The ministry’s responsibilities include the administration of the federal government’s pay system and portfolio of real estate, plus procurement. Early on, I worked on purchasing vessels and fighter jets for the navy and the coast guard.

And suddenly you’re running point on saving Canadians from Covid-19. No pressure, right?
There wasn’t time for pressure. I focused on PPE supply right away.

What did you learn from the PPE mission that informed your vaccine approach?
The importance of multiple supply chains. Diversity is strength.

If that’s true, why are we currently lagging behind other G7 nations in terms of percentage of the population vaccinated?
It’s true that we’re behind the U.S. and the U.K., countries that can produce vaccines domestically, but we’re ahead of France and Japan and comparable to Germany.

We’re approaching the one-year mark from when Canadians first went into lockdown. Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking on March 13, 2020?
I was at home in Oakville walking my dogs, talking by phone with a staffer about how we probably wouldn’t be going back to Parliament for a while.

How well-suited are you to this cooped-up lifestyle?
Honestly, pretty well-suited. My husband and I have four kids and two dogs, so life is busy, but that’s how I like it. As for spending more time at home, that’s actually my preference. I’m a homebody.

The first Canadian was vaccinated on December 14. That must have been a pretty emotional day.
The whole month was emotional. There was the call confirming we would get early doses. Then the doses arrived. Then they were approved. It’s hard to pick one moment.

I heard you say you’re someone who cries at Tim Hortons commercials. Do you travel with Kleenex?
I don’t, but I should. After Christmas, I was watching the World Juniors. A Tims ad came on and I was an absolute mess.

Do you have any methods for destressing?
I’m a reader. I got the chance to finish a book called Polio over the holidays. It was the story of the development of that vaccine.

That doesn’t quite sound like leisure reading.
It was fantastic, and it provided some obvious parallels to what I’m going through now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.