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Businesses faced ruin from the pandemic. Then Canada came calling for vital supplies –



As the extent of the COVID-19 catastrophe became clear last spring, Toronto entrepreneur Marcus Fraser thought first of his family, then he thought of his friends, worried what this would mean for all of them.

“My third thought was, ‘Oh crap, I’m out of business,'” he said.

Fraser makes high-end clothing. He imports material from China and sells to retailers across North America.

In that instant, he knew retail sales were about to be decimated, international shipping would grind to a halt. But then, he imagined a path forward.

“I know how to do stuff; I know how to import things,” he said. “I know how to make things. And guess what, we need things.”

Fraser initially thought ‘oh crap, I’m out of business,’ then realized that his expertise in imports and garments could be of use. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

So, Fraser started hustling. Within days, he was scrambling to get a whole new line of products made and ready for what he assumed would be a wave of demand. He says there’s not that much difference between hooded sweatshirts and surgical gowns. 

“We just picked up and started making materials,” he said. “Gown contracts started to come in. Mask contracts started to come in and we just forged ahead.”

Today, his company has sold more than 300,000 gowns for use in hospitals across Ontario. He’s sold another 100,000 masks. He’s expanded too — landing a contract to put a series of vending machines in Toronto transit hubs to supply masks, PPE and what the machine bills as other “stay safe essentials.”

Fraser isn’t alone. Dozens of companies across Canada retooled their production lines to fill needs. Distilleries made hand sanitizer. Plastics companies made medical-testing equipment. Car companies made ventilators.

“This is probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever been part of,” said Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association.

“I call it the largest peace-time mobilization of Canada’s industrial capacity.” 

He put out a call to his members in March. Plants had been shut down to prevent the spread of the virus. Volpe asked who would be willing to retool their assembly lines to make medical equipment. He called on people in his industry to “do our part and step up“.

He was overwhelmed by the response. Dozens of companies answered the call, which he says they should be immensely proud of.

Volpe says the great retooling of industrial capacity is a shining example of just how creative and how flexible Canadian companies really are.

“Canadians understand now better than they used to that there’s dignity in making things,” he said.

WATCH |  How automakers retooled to respond to pandemic needs:

Flavio Volpe, of the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association says dozens of companies retooled their entire production lines to build life saving equipment. He calls it the biggest peacetime industrial mobilization in Canadian history. 0:59

Flexibility on display

Economists agree. The health of any economy can be measured in terms of productivity gains, in entrepreneurship and technological innovation. In report after report, Canada has lagged behind.

Bloomberg ranked Canada 22nd on its innovation index. Productivity rankings of G7 countries places Canada below the G7 average.

So, experts like Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the conference board of Canada, see the pivots companies made last spring as a hopeful example of what’s possible.

Workers at Mitchell Plastics, an auto parts company with a factory in Kitchener, Ont., have retooled their production line to make face shields for health care workers. The company can make about 18,000 a day. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

“For a lot of Canadians, myself included, I never would have thought we could see such a transition in manufacturing,” he said. Volpe says he always knew these companies could be responsive — and it was never just about keeping the businesses afloat.

“I think at their core, they want it to show everybody how committed they were to their workforce and the families that work for them and to their own families,” he said.

That’s not to say it’s all been smooth. Distillers, who had pivoted their operations to produce hand sanitizer and donated tens of thousands of litres, were disappointed when the federal government later signed agreements to buy it from larger suppliers — and not them.

Like other distillers, Tyler Dyck, president Craft Distiller’s Guild of B.C., pivoted from whiskey making to hand sanitizer in March, and donated thousands of litres. Then, the federal government signed agreements to buy sanitizer from larger suppliers. (Curtis Allen/CBC)

Fraser says he’s never worked this hard. He’s entered into a sector he once knew nothing about, selling an entirely new product line to an entirely new clientele. And after all that new business, he says he’s still just filling a giant COVID-sized hole in his books.

“As much as I’ll take the business,” he said, “all it’s doing is replacing business that isn’t there.”

And now, as the crisis drags into its tenth month, Fraser’s filled some of the bigger contracts. Work is starting to slow down again. That existential dread that comes with running a company is creeping back into his thoughts.

“Will we make it?” he asked. “I don’t know.”

But he does know he bought himself time, and maybe helped some people along the way. He used to joke that no one was curing cancer in the fashion industry. Nowadays, he’s not so sure.

“I don’t know if it saved somebody, but it certainly helped somebody.”

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Ontario allows second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to be delayed amid shortage – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



The Ontario government has updated its recommendation for when some people should receive the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after it was announced that there will likely be a shortage.

The new recommendation comes after the federal government announced earlier there will be a “temporary” delay of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments due to expansions of the company’s European manufacturing facility. It could result in a 50 per cent cut in shipments in January.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said in a statement on Saturday morning that long-term care and high-risk retirement home residents – and their essential caregivers – who received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine will receive their second dose in 21 to 27 days.

Staff who were vaccinated within the homes will also receive their second dose within this time period.

The government said that for all other people who received the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine they will now receive their second dose between 21 and 42 days.

People who received the Moderna vaccine will receive their second dose after the scheduled 28 days.

The vaccine adjustments align with the recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the government said.

Ontario was expecting to receive more than 160,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the final two weeks of January, a delivery schedule that’s now in doubt.

Health Minister Christine Elliott told CTV News Toronto on Friday the province is awaiting further details on the “the exact allocations” and the “timing of those allocations” but said the province is once again reserving vials of the vaccine to ensure second doses are administered.

“We have some in reserve to make sure that we are going to be able to do the second doses in the appropriate period of time. So no one needs to worry about whether they will get their second dose or not,” Elliott said.

As of 8 p.m. on Friday, 189,090 initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Ontario.

-With files from CTV News Toronto’s Colin D’Mello

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GM, Unifor reach tentative deal to build electric delivery vans in Ontario –



GM Canada says it has reached a tentative deal with Unifor that, if ratified, will see it invest $1 billion to transform its CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., to make commercial electric vehicles.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias said along with the significant investment, the agreement between the company and union will mean new products, new jobs and job security for workers.

In a statement, Dias said that more details of the tentative deal will be presented to Unifor Local 88 members at an online ratification meeting scheduled for Sunday.

He said the results of the ratification vote are scheduled to be released on Monday.

Details of the agreement were not released Friday night, but the Ontario government issued a statement on Saturday praising the deal as “good news.”

“Unifor and General Motors have worked together to reach a tentative deal that will further strengthen Ontario’s world-class auto sector for its workers, their families and the communities they live in,” a joint statement from Premier Doug Ford and Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli said.

FedEx lined up to buy electric delivery vans

A GM spokesperson said in a statement that the plan is to build BrightDrop EV 600s — an all-new GM business announced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show that will offer a cleaner way for delivery and logistics companies to move goods more efficiently. The growth of online shopping has increased demand for electric vans.

BrightDrop’s first customer is FedEx, which will begin receiving GM’s EV600 electric vans later this year.

The Ingersoll plant currently makes Chevrolet Equinox SUVs.

Unifor said the contract would bring total investment negotiated by the union to nearly $6 billion after new agreements were ratified with General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler in 2020 that included support from the federal and Ontario governments.

It said the Ford deal reached in September included $1.95 billion to bring battery electric vehicle production to Oakville, Ont., and a new engine derivative to Windsor, Ont., while the Fiat Chrysler agreement included more than $1.5 billion to build plug-in hybrid vehicles and battery electric vehicles.

Unifor said in November that General Motors agreed to a $1.3 billion investment to bring 1,700 jobs to Oshawa, Ont., plus more than $109 million to insource new transmission work for the Corvette and support continued V8 engine production in St. Catharines, Ont.

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GM to invest C$1 billion in Canada plant to manufacture electric vans – Reuters



FILE PHOTO: The General Motors Co (GM) CAMI assembly plant is seen in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

(Reuters) – General Motors Co and labor union Unifor said on Friday they have reached a tentative deal for the automaker to invest nearly C$1 billion ($785.42 million) in its CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, to manufacture commercial electric vans.

Under the tentative deal, which is yet to be ratified by the union workers, GM has agreed to begin large-scale commercial production of EV600, an electric van, at its CAMI plant, Unifor said in a statement.

The Detroit automaker said in a separate statement that work would begin immediately at the plant.

The new deal builds upon recent investments by GM in Canada, which in November had agreed to invest C$1 billion in its Oshawa plant to expand production of its full-size pickup trucks.

The Canadian government welcomed the deal and said it would confirm its support as soon as the union members ratified the deal.

“We await the results of the ratification vote,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a statement.

Unifor, the union representing hourly workers in Canada, said more details of the deal would be presented to local members of the union at an online ratification meeting scheduled for Jan. 17, the results of which are scheduled to be released a day later.

($1 = 1.2732 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru with additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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