Canada's health department said Wednesday it would not discuss the terms of a contract that paid more than $138,000 apiece for COVID ventilators never used to treat pandemic patients. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland boasted the contractor that received the multi-million dollar order was in her home riding.
"We cannot disclose the quantity of units ordered as doing so would allow the price paid per unit to be determined," said André Gagnon, spokesperson for the health department. "This is considered commercially confidential information and as such cannot be provided," Gagnon continued, according to Blacklock's Reporter.
The contractor, Thornhill Medical, did not comment. The company in 2020 was awarded a $200,451,621 contract to supply ventilators, reported Blacklock's. However, the health department managers expressed concern over "the cost of the product," according to internal memos.
More than a thousand Thornhill ventilators were purchased at $138,106 apiece. Almost all remain in an Ottawa warehouse, the department confirmed.
"Fifty-three Thornhill Medical ventilators have been allocated," said Spokesperson Gagne. The rest "are maintained at the Public Health Agency’s warehouse," he said.
Thornhill Medical’s contract was finalized on March 22, 2020, just eleven days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. "We’re close to reaching agreements with several companies, including Thornhill Medical," the Prime Minister told reporters on March 20.
Then-Industry Minister Navdeep Bains also praised the contractor. "Thornhill Medical, a ventilator manufacturer located in Toronto, has stepped up," Bains said on March 20. "In times of crisis, Canadians come together."
Minister Freeland had boasted Thornhill operated in her Toronto riding, University-Rosedale, and expressed "my pride in Canada’s fantastic manufacturers." Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally endorsed the Thornhill contract though the devices were not required.
"I am proud of Thornhill Medical in my riding, which, even as we speak, is manufacturing ventilators," Minister Freeland told the Commons in 2020. "It has delivered some ventilators to the Government of Canada, thank you very much."
Freeland, in a July 10, 2020 tweet, thanked Thornhill Medical by name. They "stepped up to support the made in Canada project, helping to keep our frontline and essential workers safe across the country," she wrote. There is no evidence any of the Thornhill devices were shipped to hospitals.
Internal emails from the Public Health Agency showed managers never wanted the devices. Thornhill ventilators were marked for purchase March 19 "despite Agency staff advising not to proceed with it as it does not meet technical requirements," said one staff email.
Managers in a Note To File said they specifically "expressed concern in writing to the Department of Industry on March 19 with acquiring the Thornhill ventilator given a concern as to whether it would be able to meet the need for COVID ventilators and the cost of the product."
Health Agency managers questioned, "the Thornhill product’s utility in an intensive care unit and its ability to do long term ventilation." They were told by the company "it had no real flexibility to modify its product."
One unidentified Department of Industry executive complained bureaucrats were "too fussy" and pressed for the Thornhill order. "It was better to have the Thornhill product than no product," said the industry department.
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