A pharmacist prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a pharmacy prototype clinic in Halifax on March 9, 2021. The CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A pharmacist prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a pharmacy prototype clinic in Halifax on March 9, 2021. The CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

B.C. government won’t release Telus contract on vaccine appointment call centres

Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix were repeatedly asked during question period

British Columbia’s premier and health minister refused to directly answer questions Wednesday about the government’s contract with Telus, the provider whose call centres for COVID-19 vaccine appointments got off to a chaotic start.

The Opposition Liberals repeatedly asked Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix during question period to release the contract and to provide basic information including its monetary value and the number of staff promised to the centres.

Both Horgan and Dix did not provide specifics, but instead repeated earlier remarks that Monday was a “bad day,” when Vancouver Coastal Health was only able to book 369 appointments, but that steps have been taken to improve the situation.

“People have bad days all the time,” Horgan said. “I’m fairly confident that Wayne Gretzky didn’t score in every game he played in, but he kept getting on the ice and doing the best he could. That’s exactly what we did in Vancouver Coastal Health.”

The health authority was the only one that did not have a backup call centre to the system provided by Telus. More staff were added and 4,000 appointments were booked in Vancouver Coastal on Tuesday and 2,500 more as of 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dix said.

Telus apologized for the performance of the call centres on Monday, when residents 90 and up and Indigenous people over 65 became eligible to book appointments, but many experienced repeated busy signals and messages telling them to call back later.

The company has said it was asked to provide 156 agents to answer calls at all times across the province, and it increased that number to 250 by Tuesday afternoon.

RELATED: B.C. minister blasts Telus performance on 90-plus vaccine appointments

The Opposition Liberals said only 33 call-takers were originally assigned to Vancouver Coastal — the second-largest authority in the province.

The Liberals asked why the government thought it would be an adequate level of staff as well as who signed the contract and when.

Liberal Renee Merrifield, a member of the legislature for Kelowna-Mission elected last fall, called on the premier to take full responsibility for the “botched” rollout of the system.

“I fully appreciate that accountability ends with me,” Horgan said. “If that doesn’t meet the bar set by the newly minted member for Kelowna, I apologize to her as well.”

Dix said that 35,500 appointments have been booked over the past three days. He has previously said about 54,000 people are eligible to book this week.

He said each health authority signed an agreement with Telus to provide call centre capacity under a long-standing master agreement with the company.

“It’s natural that we would turn to an outstanding provider such as Telus to do this,” Dix said.

The minister added that Telus president Darren Entwistle has “personally” driven the effort over the past two days to make things right.

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