Canada Pension Chief’s Vaccine Trip Vexes Trudeau Government

Justin Trudeau’s government criticized the head of Canada’s national pension fund for getting a Covid-19 vaccine in the Middle East, as the northern nation struggles to ramp up its own immunization campaign against the virus.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin traveled to the United Arab Emirates to receive a first dose of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

Canada Pension Chief’s Vaccine Trip Vexes Trudeau Government

“While the CPPIB is an independent organization, this is very troubling,” Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said by email. “The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad.”

The finance department was unaware of Machin’s trip, Cuplinskas said, adding further questions should be raised with CPPIB.

Spokespeople for the Toronto-based fund, which has C$475.7 billion ($377.1 billion) in assets under management, didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment Thursday evening.

Vaccine Frustration

News of Machin’s trip abroad represents a potential headache for Trudeau. CPPIB’s top executive reports to a government-appointed board, but the directors are businesspeople including Nutrien Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Chuck Magro and Royal Bank of Canada Chair Kathleen Taylor, not political figures.

Government policy is to avoid political interference in CPPIB’s affairs. Yet there is rising public frustration over the pace of Canada’s vaccine rollout, which is slowest among Group of Seven countries except Japan.

Despite securing more doses per capita than any other nation, Canadian health authorities have given shots to just 4.5% of the population, compared to 29% in the U.K. and 20.6% in the U.S., according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. That’s because Canada has to import the vaccines.

Recent public opinion has turned against officials who defy the government’s pleas not to leave the country: Rod Phillips, Ontario’s finance minister, was forced to resign on Dec. 31 when it was revealed he took a Caribbean vacation at a time when many businesses in the provinces were ordered to shut their doors to contain the virus.

With vaccine deliveries now accelerating after delays caused in part by export controls in the European Union, Trudeau maintains that every Canadian will be inoculated by the end of September.

The vaccine problems have caused Trudeau’s personal approval rating to drop, according to a poll released this week by the Angus Reid Institute.

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