Last year there were two million N95 masks thrown out by the Trudeau government, along with 440,000 medical gloves, after an emergency stockpile warehouse was shut down in Regina.
Canada’s health minister, Patty Hajdu says that in light of this, the country is planning on reviewing its management of the National Emergency Stockpile System (NESS), according to CBC News.
The stockpile was overseen by the Public Health Agency of Canada. A spokesman for the agency said that the gloves and masks were purchased in 2009 and they “had passed the limit of five years for their use, as recommended by the manufacturer.” They expired in 2014.
Critics question Ottawa’s reasoning behind leaving a stockpile of necessary medical equipment to remain stored for use, yet expired, for five years. The question is also raised as to why there is no system in place to cycle the supplies before they become expired. This would allow the supplied to be used before they are unusable, and a new stockpile to take their place.
On Wednesday, during a news conference, Hajdu promised that the situation will be reviewed.
“I'm certain, actually, there's opportunities to look at a process where that equipment is offered first of all to parts of Canada that may not have easy access to that equipment, and if not, then overseas to other countries that may need it,” she said. “So we'll be reviewing that practice.”
Health-care workers are seeing a major shortage of N95 masks which are necessary to protect health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Emergency Strategic stockpile is a network of warehouses located throughout the country and run by the federal government. The materials and equipment held in these warehouses can be requested by provinces and territories in emergency situations such as the current outbreak.
In Regina, supplies were thrown out by the government and the warehouse was shut down.
Some experts were surprised by this decision. They noted that the supplies should have been given to the province's health care system before they expired.
Professor John Lindsay, a teacher of emergency and disaster management in Manitoba said, “These kinds of masks and gloves should not have been winding up in a landfill. They should have been winding up in somebody's hands who could use them properly.”
David Tkachuk, a retired senator said, “It's not stockpile management at all; it's mismanagement.”
Tkachuk was previously the deputy chair for a Senate committee which showed that the country’s emergency response system was mismanaged by the then Conservative government. The committee titled the report: “Emergency preparedness in Canada: how the fine arts of bafflegab and procrastination hobble the people who will be trying to save you when things get really bad.”
“Lack of action had a terrible consequence,” Tkachuk said. “Because one, [the stockpile warehouse] wasn't replenished, it was closed. And two, none of it was used. So it was just purchased and thrown in the garbage dump.”
"It's a disregard for the public purse, and someone has to be responsible for this."
The incident was only made public because of a man named Joe Audette, who operates a Regina dumpster bin company. He reported that the NESS asked if he would bid on the project. They estimated that it would take 40 bins of “mostly gloves and light material.”
“That would have been the biggest order I'd ever seen. So that's why it's so memorable.” said Audette.
His company did not end up getting the job.
Tkachuk noted that Canada has not said what else was discarded from the warehouse in Regina. He was also worried that other warehouses may have been closed by Ottawa.
On April 1, during a news conference, Health Minister Patty Hadju acknowledged that the country's stockpile was not ready for the outbreak.
“I think federal governments for decades have been underfunding things like public health preparedness, and I would say that obviously governments all across the world are in the same exact situation,” Hajdu said.
Tkachuk hopes that this will serve as a wake-up call to Canada’s lack of emergency preparedness.