Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Ontario Premier Doug Ford to announce that the federal and Ontario governments will be contributing $23.3 million each to help 3M expand its production facility in Brockville, Ont. to begin producing N95 masks in Canada. (CBC)

Federal and Ontario governments team up with 3M to produce N95 masks in Canada

The government of Canada and the provincial government of Ontario are joining forces with manufacturing giant 3M to launch Canada’s own production of N95 masks to ensure that the country is never again at the mercy of foreign suppliers of personal protective equipment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday to announce a deal that will allow 3M to increase capacity at its Brockville, Ont., facility so it can produce up to 100 million medical-grade N95 masks a year.

The federal and Ontario governments are each kicking in $23.3 million to help increase production capacity at the plant.

The province and the federal government will each receive 25 million masks per year over five years for health-care and other essential workers, according to officials.

“Our health care workers have been on the front lines of our country’s fight against COVID-19 since the very beginning,” Trudeau said in a statement. “While the virus remains a threat, we need to make sure these real-life heroes have the equipment they need.”

Ford says Ontario needed to ramp up production of personal protective equipment given the experience early in the COVID-19 crisis, when Canada was scrambling in a global competition for a limited supply of masks and other equipment.

The prized N95 masks, used by frontline health care workers, were in particularly short supply.

“As a province and as a country, we have turned our manufacturing might towards fighting against COVID-19 and encouraging businesses to step up and produce the life-saving personal protective equipment and critical health supplies we need,” Ford said in a statement.

“We are proud to stand with our federal partners and invest in 3M’s new manufacturing facility for N95 respirators.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during a joint announcement with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at 3M’s plant in in Brockville, Ont., which will begin producing N95 masks in Canada. (CBC)

The investment will not only create jobs and contribute to Ontario’s economic recovery, but more importantly, it will protect front line health care workers throughout the pandemic and beyond, Ford added.

The investment is part of a federal strategy announced by the Trudeau government to make sure Canada has its own reliable supply of high quality personal protective equipment and medical devices needed during the current pandemic and for the future.

Government officials have admitted that Canada was unprepared for the scale of the pandemic and the strain it put on the limited supplies of personal protective equipment and medical devices such as ventilators and test kits.

Millions of the respirators Canada obtained from China were found to be defective and couldn’t be used.

Ford has also been critical of U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to limit the export of N95 masks from American plants — including 3M.

Speaking in Brockville today, Ford said Canada will “never again” be left at the mercy of other countries when it comes to what is needed to fight the novel coronavirus.

One of the styles of N-95 masks made by American giant 3M. A Canadian pulp mill supplies the unique fibre needed to blend the fabric used in these ans other special medical products. N95 masks are so named because they filter out 95 per cent of air particles, including viruses, when used properly. Countries around the world are finding themselves short of the masks as health-care systems are overwhelmed by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

This is the second domestic contract to produce N95 masks, after Quebec-based Medicom signed a 10-year agreement to supply N95 and surgical masks to the federal government in April.

Medicom’s combined contracts are worth more than $113 million, and include providing 24 million surgical masks and 20 million N95 respirators each year.

Another Quebec-based company, Artofix, has also developed its own technology to produce N95 masks.

The company is working with Health Canada to get the mask tested and certified for use in the healthcare system in Canada, according to Artofix general manager Jason Duval.

Artofix is also working on getting certification by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which would allow it to access the American market as well.

The federal government is looking to purchase 300 million masks to deal with the pandemic and replenish its rapidly dwindling reserve stocks as it prepares for the second wave, according to Duval.

With files from The Canadian Press

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