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Canada has a massive surplus of unused ventilators

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In response to the crisis, the federal government quickly ordered just over 40,000 fans at a cost of C$1.1 billion, the vast majority of Canadian manufacturers starting to build the life-saving machines from scratch.

At the time, it was billed as a success story for Canadian ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit. More than 27,000 fans had been delivered by May 2021. But the worst pandemic scenarios never materialized and most of the machines were never needed.

According to figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the federal government has received 27,687 ventilators of the 40,000 it has ordered. Of those, 25,964 are in the National Strategic Emergency Stock, a stockpile of medical and emergency equipment that provinces and territories can request if they run out.

Only 2,048 ventilators have been deployed, including several hundred donated to developing countries.

Public Services and Procurement Canada works with suppliers to reduce ordered volumes. The ministry won’t say how much of the C$1.1 billion has been paid to suppliers, or whether the government will save some of that money by canceling orders.

“The Government of Canada is working with Canadian suppliers to identify opportunities to reduce ordered volumes and support them when these contracts expire,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “As negotiations are currently underway, we are unable to disclose any further details regarding the payment at this time.”

Infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said the surplus of ventilators is a “nice problem to have,” in light of the nightmare scenarios faced by doctors in New York and Italy early in the pandemic.

“Under those circumstances, ordering a large number of fans was a very understandable decision,” he said. “When I have those, I sleep a little better at night.”

But he also asked questions about how much maintenance the machines in the inventory require to keep them in good working order.

A government website lists 15 suppliers with which the government has signed contracts for ventilators, but the largest are with five Canadian suppliers: CAE Inc., Canadian Emergency Ventilators Inc. (led by StarFish Medical), EPM Global Services Inc., Thornhill Medical and FTI Professional Grade Inc., a consortium of companies brought together at the initiative of Rick Jamieson, an auto parts maker.

FTI Professional Grade came under scrutiny in late 2020 due to the involvement of a former Liberal MP, Frank Baylis. The consortium hired Baylis Medical as a subcontractor to help manufacture the machines, but Jamieson and Baylis insisted his political career had nothing to do with his participation in the project.

FTI was awarded a C$237 million contract for 10,000 fans, which the consortium says were fully delivered by the end of 2020. PHAC says 9,056 of those ventilators are now in emergency stock. A total of 403 machines have been distributed across the country, while 539 have been donated to India, Nepal and Pakistan. Two units have been returned to the supplier.

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