‘Urgency is key’ as homegrown PPE industry calls for procurement changes

Supplied Photo: Canadian Shield

After receiving some large contracts from the Federal and Provincial governments at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, local PPE manufacturer the Canadian Shield found its success in pivoting to meet the demands of a healthcare industry facing a critical shortage of protective equipment.

Though as the pandemic continues, sales volumes continue to shrink, as third-party buyers for that same industry continue to rely on previously established procurement contracts with importers, leaving little room for a budding homegrown PPE industry to flourish.

Jeremy Hedges is the founder and CEO of the Canadian Shield and said that reform is urgently needed to avoid a “critical issue” in the Canadian PPE industry. Speaking as a recent guest on the Business to Business program on 570 NEWS, Hedges said domestic supply should be a priority for our provincial and federal government, even outside of the PPE industry in which his company operates – as he said the county relies on outsourcing for a number of critical industries. Referencing United States President Joe Biden’s “Buy American” policy, Hedges said what’s needed is a further focus on shoring up our country’s supply chain to withstand events like our ongoing pandemic.

“They’re looking at supply chain to see where the vulnerabilities are because the COVID lesson, and the lesson with PPE and vaccination here in Canada, is that we can’t rely on others to keep us safe.” Said Hedges. “If we know anything, it’s that we know the future is very uncertain.”

As the Canadian Shield marks one year of operation, Hedges said companies like his own that pivoted to meet domestic demand for PPE have been “bombarding” buyer groups in the healthcare industry, as he said he feels they understand there’s a problem, and that they need to work to find a solution to the issue. Hedges said those existing contracts for the procurement of PPE need to either be opened to allow Canadian companies to be added to contracts or terminated to be re-tendered.

“There’s lots of cards on the table, but urgency is key. I can confidently say I’ve spoken to 40 CEOs across the country, and many or all of them are in the same position.” Said Hedges. “They’ve got millions of products on the shelves, it’s becoming difficult for them to stay open and I think that if we don’t solve this problem in the next 60 days, we’re going to see a lot of progress lost – and that’s a bad outcome.”

After speaking to the issue at Queens Park earlier this month, Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife said she plans to introduce a bill to diversify the supply chain in April – as she referenced her experience over the past year of hearing from local businesses on their issues accessing government procurement contracts. Fife also brought attention to the issue of procurement contracts being faced by manufacturers like The Canadian Shield, and has asked the provincial government as to why there was no support for businesses that retooled operations to meet our domestic demand for PPE.

“They pivoted, changed their business model and filled a huge gap when the pandemic was just starting for PPE.” Said Fife. “They had to lay off 47 people because they can’t break into the sector. Now, they’re looking at exporting their great product to other jurisdictions – we need that product. Why are we creating jobs in China when we need jobs here in KW and across the province?”

Fife mentioned that many of the businesses hardest hit through the pandemic are those owned by women or marginalized individuals, as she said changes to procurement and government contracts would play an important role in our country’s economic recovery. Fife said her bill would allow smaller, lower companies across the province to bid for government services and contracts, ensuring all qualified individuals are able to be at the table when bidding on contracts.

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