Canada and its manufacturing sector face harm if PPE documents are released, says industry group


Releasing confidential documents detailing the federal government’s business deals with suppliers of personal protective equipment and testing devices could hurt Canadian manufacturers and sully Canada’s global business reputation, a major industry association says.

Dennis Darby is president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, a 150-year-old organization that represents some 2,500 businesses. He has written to the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP asking them to push back against a Conservative motion requesting those documents.

“We urge you to resist calls for disclosing any proprietary and confidential business information shared in private with the government of Canada and we commit ourselves to working with you to ensure that this does not happen,” Darby wrote.

The letter refers to Conservative MP Michelle Rempel-Garner’s motion calling on the federal government to release “all memoranda, emails, documents, notes and other records” detailing federal government’s purchasing of all testing-related equipment, from swabs to devices, and all personal protective equipment.

The motion also calls for detailed information about vaccines and asks the federal government’s Vaccine Task Force for information about its contacts with the federal government and its vaccine distribution and monitoring strategy.

“If these disclosures are too broad, it will negatively impact business operations for manufacturers in Canada and around the globe,” Darby wrote. “Furthermore, we worry that the reputations of many manufacturers, who stepped up to produce and sell personal protective equipment (PPE), testing devices, or other goods, will be unfairly tarnished.”

Darby said that the expense involved in retooling factories to produce masks, face shields, gowns and other items increased the cost of those products, even though the manufacturers sold them to the government at cost.

“Without doubt, those sudden ramp-up costs are significantly higher than a manufacturer who had been producing those same products for years,” Darby said in the letter. “We do not think their intentions should be called into question.”

The motion will go to a vote on Monday. Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez’s office confirmed Thursday it won’t be considered a confidence vote — meaning it won’t trigger a general election if it passes.

The parties are debating how much time the government should have to gather the relevant documents after the Liberals said the motion’s 15-day timeline was unrealistic.

Negotiations ongoing

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, made a similar plea on Twitter this week, saying that the Conservative motion is threatening the “biggest industrial mobilization of Canadian industry in its history.” 

Volpe said that if manufacturers find their work being politicized, the companies that dropped everything to be a part of the effort to make PPE could abandon the work and tell the federal government to shop for PPE in China.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics Thursday that the federal government is in the middle of negotiating contracts and disclosing sensitive business information could threaten those deals.

“If we go ahead and release information, that will undermine our supplier relationships,” she told guest host David Cochrane. “I am very concerned with releasing documents, vaccine contracts, PPE contracts … because we will undermine those relationships.” 

The co-chairs of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force also expressed their concern in a letter sent Thursday to the leaders of all five federal political parties.

Joanne Langley and Mark Lievonen said that in order to provide advice to cabinet, they have entered into non-disclosure agreements with companies from Canada and around the world.

The task force has offered MPs from all parties a briefing, providing those MPs are also “subject to the same confidentiality arrangements” that bind the task force.

“Without this guarantee of commercial confidentiality, it would not have been possible for us to meaningfully engage with these firms nor to obtain the data needed to make evidence-based, informed recommendations,” the letter from the task force co-chairs said. 

It’s not clear what the final motion will look like come Monday; as it stands now, it includes a provision that appears to allow for some information to be withheld.

The motion says the documents can be “vetted for matters of personal privacy information and national security … the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with contractual or other negotiations between the Government of Canada and a third party.” 

That vetting, the motion says, should be done by the law clerk and parliamentary counsel within seven days of delivery of the documents.