Trudeau, Ford to unveil deal Friday to produce N95 masks at 3M plant in Brockville, Ont.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will join Ontario Premier Doug Ford today to announce a deal aimed at ensuring Canada is never again at the mercy of unreliable foreign suppliers of personal protective equipment during a pandemic.

Under the agreement, 3M is to increase capacity at its Brockville, Ont., facility so that it can produce up to 100 million medical-grade N95 masks a year.

The federal and Ontario governments are each kicking in $23.3 million to help increase production capacity at the plant.

A provincial government official confirmed the masks are to be used to meet private sector, provincial, and North American market demand throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Read more: Coronavirus: 3M to make N95 masks in Brockville after agreement with federal, Ontario governments

Ford has repeatedly said that Ontario needs to ramp up production of personal protective equipment given the experience early in the COVID-19 crisis, when Canada was scrambling in a global competition for a limited supply of masks and other equipment.

The prized N95 masks, used by frontline health care workers, were in particularly short supply.

Millions of the respirators Canada obtained from China were found to be defective and couldn’t be used.

Ford has also been critical of U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to limit the export of N95 masks from American plants — including 3M.

“We will never be put in this position again,” Ford said during a news conference in April. “I’m not going to rely on any country ever again.”

This will be the second domestic contract to produce N95 masks, after Quebec-based Medicom signed a 10-year agreement to supply N95 and surgical masks to the federal government in April.

Read more: Coronavirus: 3M says Canada will continue receiving N95 masks following U.S. deal

Medicom’s combined contracts are worth more than $113 million, and include providing 24 million surgical masks and 20 million N95 respirators each year.

The company turned a warehouse in Montreal into a mask factory in a little over two months. It has already started producing and supplying surgical masks to Ottawa and N95 production is to begin this month with the first deliveries expected in the fall.

Health Canada regulations require approval of the masks and each shipment must be inspected by the Public Health Agency of Canada for quality control.

Canada has contracts for 154.5 million N95 and KN95 masks but, as of Aug. 3, only 54 million N95 and KN95 respirators had been delivered — all imported from outside the country.

KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of the N95 respirators that are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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