The federal government was slow to act on warnings by the public service that Canada’s National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS) was low on supplies. 

According to CBC News, the Public Health Agency of Canada alerted the government on February 13 that the state of the emergency stockpile was not prepared to handle a pandemic.

A powerpoint presentation dated February 13 by the agency notes that Canada only had a “modest supply of personal protective equipment including surgical masks, respirators, gowns and coveralls.” 

“We anticipate increased demand and further requests, and also shortages, limits to availability and impacts on the global supply chain. We want to be as ready as possible to meet immediate needs,” notes the agency. 

Despite the early warning, the Liberals didn’t act to acquire more medical supplies until the middle of March and by then, prices were already inflated due to a global rush for personal protective equipment. 

Only a small number of contracts were documented for the month of February and don’t come anywhere near the size of the multi-million dollar purchases made by the government in the following months. 

One contract from February 14 was issued for $150,997 for “medical equipment and supplies.” A few days later, another contract was signed for over $100,000 in gowns and nitrile gloves. 

In comparison, by April the federal government was signing contacts worth $90 million for N95 masks at the height of the pandemic. 

Critics have accused the Liberals of mismanaging the NESS prior to the pandemic. According to estimates by the Treasury Board, the federal government’s failure to keep the stockpile replenished cost Canadian taxpayers $1.8 billion on “payments to acquire protective gear and medical equipment.”

Due to a lack of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, Canada was forced to buy supplies at prices 380% more than those prior to the pandemic.

During testimony before the health committee, Executive Director of the Public Health Association Ian Culbert said that the government’s handling of the stockpile has been its “largest failure” to date.

“I would say the national emergency stockpile is probably the largest failure as far as our response goes to date,” Culbert told the Commons health committee.

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