As Canada's economy begins to reopen, the Trudeau government is short about three billion masks, according to a federal contractor. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the Public Health Agency had a stockpile of only 100,000 N95 masks.
Cabinet said on March 31 that it contracted General Motors to make masks at a shuttered Oshawa Ont. plant, according to Blacklock's Reporter.
"I expect we're going to see full production of masks this week," said David Paterson, the vice-president of corporate affairs at GM.
"We're going to need, I've seen estimates of three billion face coverings that we're going to need in Canada," said Paterson. "We're going to be making about ten million of those, but we're going to need a lot more from different sourcing."
At the Commons industry committee, Paterson noted that the company is not charging profit for the service.
"We're doing it entirely at cost and offering our facilities, our expertise, to be able to do it quickly," he said. "We have hired approximately sixty people we're bringing back to work. They've been trained. We're ready to go."
Paterson said the Oshawa plant was retooled for mask production over the course of two months with US-made equipment.
"We're really good at making cars, but this is a whole new area."
"In Canada there's a lot of discussion around N95 masks," said Paterson. "They are masks that give you a complete face covering that's very important for medical uses. We use them in our paint plants."
Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi asked, "Did I hear you say the capacity will be ten million masks a year?"
"That's approximately where we're at right now," Paterson replied.
The company was contracted under a $2 billion federal program for pandemic supplies. As of March 11—when a global pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization—the Public Health Agency had just 100,000 N95 masks.
In mid-April, the Department of Public Works said it ordered about 130 million N95 masks coming from Chinese manufacturers.
During a May 22 testimony, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam admitted that the Public Health Agency did not have many supplies on hand. "There was definitely a small amount," said Tam. "It wasn’t a lot."
When a Regina warehouse was closed in 2019 by the Public Health Agency there were over two million N95 masks discarded.
The agency's managers never gave an explanation as to why they did not listen to reports by auditors and researchers recommending strategic stockpiling of supplies. An agency was created for pandemic preparations by Parliament in 2004.