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Canada’s once booming PPE industry is now ‘running on fumes.’ Why?



Most Canadian businesses that answered federal and provincial calls during the pandemic to build up a domestic sector for personal protective equipment have collapsed.

The association that represents Canadian PPE companies says 90 per cent of those businesses have been forced to close or pivot to other industries because the federal government and Ontario have given contracts to a massive American company and a Quebec operation.

“We’ve got an industry that is just running on fumes,” Barry Hunt, the president of the Canadian Association of PPE Manufacturers, said in an interview.


“Most of them are out of business and the ones that aren’t out of business are going out of business quickly.”

A major issue, Hunt said, is large PPE orders the federal and Ontario governments placed with American company 3M, which has a facility in Brockville, Ont., and Quebec-based Medicom. Hospitals – who buy as larger groups – have also shut out domestic PPE suppliers, he said.

“There was a promise to procure at the end and that has never happened,” said Hunt, whose association has 15 companies remaining as members.

The scramble for PPE began in the spring of 2020, when governments around the world rushed to procure masks, gowns, gloves and other protective gear as COVID-19 spread. The virus hit Canada with full force in March 2020.

In April 2020, George Irwin answered government pleas to help. He paused operations at his family-owned toy company, Irwin Toy, to import masks to Ontario.

As many countries struggled to procure masks, Irwin’s connections in China, along with Air Canada’s help, allowed him to secure 2.5 million masks.

That success prompted both the Ontario and federal governments to ask Irwin to consider setting up a plant in Canada, he said. He crunched the numbers and believed he could make a better mask than the ones from China for about the same price.

He received about $2 million in grant money from Ontario and put in about $6 million to build a plant to make masks in Collingwood, Ont.

With his background in toys – a constantly evolving, innovative industry – Irwin worked with others and created an antimicrobial four-layer mask. He also created a reusable and recyclable respirator mask.

Irwin said he believed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford when they said they wanted to create a domestic PPE sector.

But neither government has purchased a single mask from him, he said.

Irwin’s company went into receivership last summer. He could lose everything, including his home.

“I’m pissed off,” Irwin said. “We did nothing wrong, all we did was make a better product that’s been ignored.”

Others have similar stories.

Paul Sweeny runs Swenco in Waterloo, Ont., a business started by his father 60 years ago.

They make components for safety shoes and, in 2019, got into the N95 mask business after signing a distribution deal with a company in Singapore.

When COVID-19 hit, Sweeny sold a shipping container of N95s in three days.

“We decided right then and there, let’s get into the mask business,” he said.

Ontario gave him a $2 million grant, he said, noting the total investment in the business sits at around $6 million.

Sweeny now has 11 machines in his plant, a massive clean room, automated packaging and robots. The plant has the capacity to make upwards of 25 million masks a month and employ 60 people. But that isn’t happening right now.

“The plant is idle,” Sweeny said, adding he wants no more platitudes from governments.

“Just give me an order so we can get the machines operational.”

Hunt, of the PPE manufacturers association, said governments owe companies who answered the emergency pandemic call. Ottawa and Ontario may have provided funding and helped with research and development, but they haven’t come through with orders, he said.

“If the governments are never going to buy Canadian PPE, and you’ve asked all these companies to invest and develop all this stuff, then give them their money back,” Hunt said.

“Let them get out and transition to start something else.”

What really upsets many companies, Hunt said, is the announcement by Trudeau and Ford in August 2020 that they were investing $47 million in 3M to produce N95 masks for the governments over the next five years.

Hunt runs a company that makes reusable and biodegradable respirators – made from corn – with no hard plastic or metal, and believed after conversations with the federal and provincial governments that he, and other Canadian companies, would get business from them.

“We were totally blindsided by the 3M deal,” Hunt said.

The province’s Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery did not answer questions about the deals with 3M and Quebec’s Medicom, or if it planned to help the struggling PPE companies.

Spokesman Colin Blachar said it had created a stockpile of PPE from Ontario manufacturers and that “93 per cent of the forecasted PPE for the next 18 months will be purchased from Ontario or Canadian-based manufacturers.”

Public Services and Procurement Canada said the federal government took “an aggressive procurement approach” at the start of the pandemic to meet immediate and long-term medical supply requirements. As the pandemic has evolved, the government’s requirements for PPE have too, it said.

“We are grateful for all Canadian companies that answered the Government of Canada’s call to action to support the pandemic response,” spokeswoman Stefanie Hamel wrote.

“These efforts helped to secure domestic production of critical PPE and medical supplies that were urgently needed by front-line healthcare workers and helped to meet the most urgent and immediate demands for personal protective equipment.”


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Those With Rare Diseases Need to Wait, as Usual



Science has developed the ability to research, develop and create functional cures for many of our so-called “incurable diseases”, but having the ability to do something and actually doing it are two different things. Medicine has always suffered from a problem with “knowing-doing”. It is the difference between what a doctor actually does for a patient and what can be done with all that we know. Developmental breakthroughs in medicine are allowing doctors to do things they never could imagine before. Sometimes these break-thoughts don’t fit into businesses/governmental financial or regulatory systems, meaning that it can take a long time for patients to actually benefit, a time many patients may not have.

The National Institutes of Health in America invest more than $40 Billion in biomedical research each year, and the private sector twice as much. The discoveries are valued by all, but why is it so hard to use these discoveries?

Science’s ability to engineer medicines has far outpaced how these medicines are actually built, tested, and put into human beings. Artificial Intelligence has assisted the community by mapping the human genome in efforts to cure various diseases. The US Government defines rare diseases as those that affect fewer than 200,000 people in America. Some affect only a handful of people. There are over 7000 different rare diseases, with more than 30 million people in America diagnosed with one of them. That is 10% of the US population. So improving how society can find and care for these patients could have a great impact. Problem is that the health system is not flagging enough people with these diseases, while many individuals don’t even know what disease they may have, or that they indeed have a disease. A.I. steps up front to assist in the recognition, tracking, analyzing, and identifying of these patients through computer-programmed systems. Put one’s symptoms into the machine, and often voila, a point from which a doctor can begin his medical investigation and treatment. A diagnostic odyssey in each individual case.

Artificial Intelligence has a prominent place within our health system, including helping design new treatments, helping predict which treatment is better for which patient, and screening for rare diseases with suggested diagnoses to boot. Why are many with rare diseases often left out in the cold, to search on their own for a cure? Money! Simple.


Who makes medicines, and invests millions in treatments and research for diseases? Pharmaceutical Firms.
What are they but profit centers for investment bankers, massive corporations, and a financial structure centered upon the shareholder, and not the average joe? Solutions can be found, but the willingness to spend way beyond what a firm can make in profits needs to be there. Sure our DNA is constantly changing, and evolving biologically. Making a drug that cures cancer, may cure some, but certainly not all forms since each person is unique, their biology specific to that person. Many doctors realize that their methods are much like witch Doctors, forever experimenting with the specific individual’s condition.

Our Health system is tied to our financial system. That is the root of it. So long as the doctors, hospitals, and researchers are tied to profit (our financial system) the necessary technology, research, and investment will not be found for those with rare diseases. I have a disease that has no cure. My immune system is attacking the tissue in my mouth. It is sorely painful, personally transformative, and damn if you could find a doctor who is a real expert in the field. Since it is rare, the institutions of the industry will not find proper medicine for its management, let alone its cure. I live with it, and the disease manages the way I eat, what I eat, how I clean my teeth, how I sleep, and interact with my partner too. This disease can transfer to another. Great eh!

For those of you who have or know of someone who has a rare disease, all I can say is to be patient. The present-day financial and healthcare systems need to change drastically, with governmental intervention in all aspects of research, planning, and manufacturing of medicines. Out of the hands who care for themselves, and hopefully into the hands of those who care about you and those you love.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario

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Canada is set for its largest alcohol tax increase yet. Here’s what to know



Canadians could soon be paying around a quarter more for a 24-pack of beer thanks to the largest increase yet to a federal tax on alcohol.

The “escalator tax” is set to increase by 6.4 per cent on April 1 unless a change is announced before then, such as when the federal budget is revealed on March 28, according to food distribution professor at Dalhousie University, Sylvain Charlebois.

Charlebois told Global News that the tax, which was introduced in 2017, was designed to automatically increase over time based on the rate of inflation to avoid renegotiating it too often.


Given the amount of inflation Canada has experienced recently, the tax is now set for its biggest increase ever, he noted. Last year, the tax went up 2.4 per cent.

And while a penny a beer might not sound like much of a hike, industry experts say it’s one more factor pushing up costs for producers and distributors that’s likely to have ripple effects on what consumers pay.


Breaking down the cost increase

Charlebois predicts the tax will increase the price of a single beer by one cent, while the finance ministry told Global News in a statement that the amount would be three-quarters of a cent. Charlebois said that the price increase would be visible immediately after the tax is scheduled to be implemented on April 1.

Beer Canada told Global News in a statement that the tax increase will bring up the price of a 12-pack by 10 cents. For a 750 ml bottle of wine, the price could increase close to three cents, according to figures from the Canadian Revenue Agency.

In a statement to the Canadian Press, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) said that a 750 ml bottle of a spirit of 40 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) may increase 70 cents. Charlebois said that the tax may have a smaller impact on the price of craft beer since it is lower volume and usually at a higher price, but could affect larger manufacturers more.

The tax could have a ripple effect on costs, as well.

Beer Canada said since the tax is a production tax imposed on the brewer at the point and time of production, “it is then magnified by other fees and taxes imposed by distributors, retailers, and provinces, including sales taxes,” making the impact on a 12-pack likely closer to 20 cents.

Along with other inflation factors, beer retail prices are projected to rise 10 per cent in 2023, according to the organization.

Beer Canada notes there has been a 60-per cent increase in barley prices, 40-per cent increase in packaging costs, and a doubling of freight costs.

Industry group Restaurants Canada told Canadian Press it estimates the tax increase will cost Canada’s food-service industry about $750 million a year, with the average casual dining restaurant expected to pay an extra $30,000 towards alcohol.

The carbon tax is also set to increase April 1 to $65 a metric ton of carbon from $50, which Charlebois said could impact alcohol prices as well since most producers do not have completely green supply chains. In addition, provinces individually typically increase their tax on alcohol, as well.

Overall, the escalator tax alone will amount to an extra $125 million a year that Canadians will pay to the government.

“It’s just one tax people don’t need right now,” Charlebois said. “It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more that the tax burden is only increasing.”

“It’s a lot of pressure,” he added.


Industry calls for no tax increase

There is still the possibility the tax could be scrapped, Sylvain said, as lobbyists are moving against it.

Beer Canada says that Canada has the highest alcohol taxes among G7 nations, with about half the cost of a typical can of beer going to taxes, while up to 80 per cent of a bottle of alcohol is taxed, according to Spirits Canada.

The organization is calling on the federal government to freeze current alcohol taxes until inflation reaches closer to the Bank of Canada’s two per cent target.


“It’s do or die time in terms of action,” CJ Hélie, president of Beer Canada, told Global News. “April 1 is right around the corner and the question will be, does the government’s actions live up to their commitment.”

On March 22, MPs voted 170 to 149 in favour of a motion calling on the government to cancel the alcohol tax increase, sponsored by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

Helie told The Canadian Press that the escalator tax used to be “digestible” when it was around two per cent, but with more than triple the usual increase, it should now be reconsidered.

“When inflation is through the roof, we need to rethink this automatic formula,” Helie said. “The industry is already in dire straits. Using a rigid formula in a time like this is unacceptable.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Principal resigns after Florida students shown Michelangelo statue



A picture of Michelangelo's statue of David

A principal of a Florida school has been forced to resign after a parent complained that sixth-grade students were exposed to pornography.

The complaint arose from a Renaissance art lesson where students were shown Michelangelo’s statue of David.

The iconic statue is one of the most famous in Western history.

But one parent complained the material was pornographic and two others said they wanted to know about the class before it was taught.


The 5.17m (17ft) statue depicts an entirely naked David, the Biblical figure who kills the giant Goliath.

The lesson, given to 11 and 12-year-olds, also included references to Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” painting and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”.

Principal Hope Carrasquilla of Tallahassee Classical School said she resigned after she was given an ultimatum by the school board to resign or be fired.

Local media reported that Ms Carrasquilla did not know the reason she was asked to resign, but believed it was related to the complaints over the lesson.

They also said Ms Carrasquilla had been principal for less than one year.

In an interview with US outlet Slate, the chair of the school’s board, Barney Bishop III, said that last year the principal sent a notice to parents warning them that students were going to see Michelangelo’s David – but that this wasn’t done this year. He called it an “egregious mistake” and said that “parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture”.

“We’re not going to show the full statue of David to kindergartners. We’re not going to show him to second graders. Showing the entire statue of David is appropriate at some age. We’re going to figure out when that is,” Mr Bishop said.

On Thursday, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, moved to expand a law that banned public schools from teaching sexual education and gender identity.

Teachers who violate the law face being suspended or losing their teaching licences.

The David was completed by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504. It was instantly hailed as a masterpiece, with Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari saying the David “surpassed” any statue that had ever existed before.

Queen Victoria gifted a copy of the David to the South Kensington museum – later the V&A – in 1857. When she first saw the cast, she was apparently so shocked by the nudity that a fig leaf was commissioned to cover up the genitalia.

The V&A’s website says that the leaf was kept “in readiness for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks.”


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