OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford shared a lectern Friday to announce a deal with 3M, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of protective medical gear, to produce Canadian-made N95 respirator masks.
The $70-million deal, a cost equally split between federal and provincial governments, is set to expand production of N95 respirators at an Ontario site by 2021.
“This is one of my proudest moments as premier,” Ford told reporters at 3M’s plant in Brockville, Ont., pleased with the idea the country’s doctors and nurses will “never have to depend on another country” for personal protective equipment (PPE).
The federal government and Ontario each expect to receive 25 million N95 respirators annually when the facility is operational.
Ford praised Trudeau for stepping up to the plate and doing an “incredible job as prime minister” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He was on the phone every single week asking, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’ And you wonder why I’m always up here praising him?” he said, adding later, “It’s just amazing when we work together and we band together.”
Trudeau said the 3M deal is an example of how progress can be made by working together.
With no export limits or protectionist measures, the prime minister said Canada is well placed to provide masks overseas, offering it as a reason why 3M chose to expand production of N95 masks here.
Shortages of the single-use masks sparked concerns in the health-care sector about a consistent supply and their safe extended use and reuse.
3M is a leading manufacturer of medical masks. In April, the Minnesota-based company pushed back against the White House’s attempt to hoard N95 respirators, and limit exports to Canada and Latin America.
The company eventually struck a deal with the Trump administration to continue shipping its masks, manufactured in China, to Canada.
Taiwanese-American scientists Peter Tsai invented the electrostatically charged fabric used to make the N95 mask. Initially created to help construction workers work in dusty conditions, they were found to be highly effective in controlling airborne transmission of infectious diseases.
N95 respirator masks have been in high demand by health professionals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand, who was also on site at the 3M announcement, said the federal government has contracts out to secure 2 billion “various pieces” of PPE by the end of the current fiscal year.
Watch: Inventor of N95 mask technology comes out of retirement amid pandemic. Story continues below video.
To mitigate challenges in maintaining adequate stockpiles of PPE, the federal government created a new temporary reserve as part of an agreement struck with the provinces.
Called the Essential Services Contingency Reserve, its purpose is to provide PPE access to essential services in sectors including health, food, energy and utilities, and transportation.
Ford previously put Trudeau ‘on notice’
Friday’s display of cross-party political unity between Trudeau and Ford is worlds away from how the two men initially treated each other publicly, frequently at loggerheads for a year and a half before the pandemic.
In Ford’s first months in provincial office, he riled a crowd at his party’s policy convention and pledged to put Trudeau “on notice.”
During the fall election, Trudeau treated the populist Conservative leader as a punching bag to score votes on the campaign trail.
Their relationship has seemingly thawed after Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected with a minority government. The pair sat down for a meeting on Parliament Hill in November.
Trudeau was meeting with premiers at the time to discuss provincial priorities — and to cool any tensions between leaders after a ruthless federal election.
The attacks come with the territory, the Ontario premier suggested. Ford, like Trudeau, comes from a political dynasty. His father, Doug Ford Sr., was an Ontario MPP; and his brother, the late Rob Ford, was the former mayor of Toronto. Trudeau is the oldest son of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
“You know something? The prime minister’s family’s been in politics for years, our family’s been in politics for years, it’s politics,” Ford told reporters after his meeting with Trudeau at the time. “Now, we have to do things that people want. People expect us to work together.”
Ford has since developed a friendship with Trudeau’s deputy, Chrystia Freeland.
Freeland referred to Ford as her “therapist” in an interview with the Toronto Star in April. And when she was named finance minister earlier this week, replacing Bill Morneau who resigned from the post Monday, Ford only had glowing words to say.
“I’ll have her back,” he said. “I’ll help her any way we can.”