NEITHER Premier Brian Pallister nor Providence Therapeutics would comment on the status of Manitoba’s deal with the Calgary company to develop a COVID-19 vaccine since its CEO suddenly announced last week that he’s leaving Canada.
While a provincial spokesman assured Manitoba taxpayers on Friday they won’t be on the hook for the $7.2-million non-refundable deposit the government was to give the vaccine developer, neither the premier nor CEO Brad Sorenson responded to interview requests this week.
Sorenson told CBC news Friday he’s tired of "the runaround" from both Ottawa and provincial governments and he’s ready to move Providence overseas to develop vaccines in the Southern Hemisphere.
"I’m moving on, that’s where I’m at now," Sorenson is quoted as saying. "I’ve prostrated myself at the altar of the government in Canada for a year and I’ve received nothing for it. I’m tired of begging and pleading."
With the Manitoba legislature not sitting this week and question period on hold until Monday, neither the premier nor members of his caucus have had to answer questions about the deal, which was announced in February.
Pallister said Manitoba had arranged for the company to provide it with two million doses of its yet-to-be-approved vaccine. He said Manitoba would make a 20 per cent down payment of the value of the contract ($7.2 million) and pay an additional 40 per cent once Health Canada approved the vaccine. The balance would be paid upon delivery.
Pallister’s spokeswoman did not respond to emailed questions about Providence Therapeutics, including whether the premier had advance warning from Sorenson about leaving Canada, if he’s spoken to Sorenson since Friday and if Manitoba is still interested in investing in the vaccine developer if it moves offshore.
Pallister had steadfastly defended his deal with Providence in the face of extreme doubt raised by academics and politicians.
Sorenson won’t respond to emails until after the company’s Phase 1 vaccine trial results are made public May 10, a spokeswoman for Sorenson at Global Public Affairs, a "crisis, risk and issues management" firm in Toronto, said late Monday.
In an interview with the Free Press three weeks ago, Sorenson expressed optimism and said enrolment in the Phase 1 trial of its messenger RNA vaccine was complete, and the preliminary data from a blinded study showed its immune response to be equal to or better than those of similar Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech products.
There was no response to questions from the Free Press Tuesday, including whether or not Sorenson thought Manitobans deserved a more timely explanation from him since their government planned to invest in the company.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.