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Ford urges Ontario companies to step up by manufacturing equipment to combat COVID-19

A new ‘Ontario Together’ web portal will enable businesses to more easily mobilize and redeploying capacity toward making ventilators, protective masks, and swabs for virus testing.

Mar 21, 2020 | Robert Benzie | Toronto Star

All hands on deck.

That’s the message from Premier Doug Ford, who launched a new “Ontario Together” web portal on Saturday to enable businesses to more easily mobilize to manufacture medical equipment and essential supplies including hand sanitizer in the fight against COVID-19.

The website is designed to break down any barriers to manufacturers redeploying their capacity toward making ventilators, protective masks, and swabs for virus testing.

Companies can also call 1-888-777-0554 for assistance submitting proposals to help.

“We’re ready to mobilize Ontario’s manufacturing might to help the whole country,” the premier said at Queen’s Park.

For the first time, Ford held his daily COVID-19 briefing via a teleconference so no journalists were in the room with him. His office said this was done “out of an abundance of caution.”

“We want Ontario to be the workshop of Canada in the fight against COVID-19,” he said, likening the mobilization to wartime or natural disaster footing.

“Ontario’s manufacturing sector and business community have always been there to respond to the country’s needs and to the needs of others,” the premier said.

“We need ventilators, face masks, surgical gowns, protective eyewear, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, swabs, medical gloves, and lab testing equipment,” said Ford.

“If you can retool your business to make these products, if you can supply these essential items, we need to hear from you right now. If you need funding to make it happen, we’ll find a way to help you.”

Ford was joined by Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, who has won praise from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains for his efforts to get auto parts companies to shift to production of ventilators and other necessary medical devices.

“How firmly this government responded to the crisis of our times will be the only measure that will matter when Ontario is successful in its defence of public health,” said Volpe.

Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said “more than ever, our sector and supply chains need support to address the challenges related to the COVID-19 crisis.

“We greatly appreciate the government for taking the initiative to launch a procurement tool that will remove barriers and help Ontario manufacturers and their employees continue to play an essential role in solving this crisis,” said Darby.

Benjamin Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said “a smart way to help the Ontario’s economy in these challenging times is by procuring products and services from our innovative small and medium sized businesses and technology scale-ups that can directly reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli praised distillers including Dillon’s, Kinsip, Spirit of York, and Corby that have “all lent a helping hand” by shifting production from booze to hand sanitizer.

“We want to see this type of teamwork everywhere and every sector of economy,” said Fedeli, adding IT companies can also help to combat the virus.

“Ontario’s businesses have shown they are ready and willing to work with us and we urge them to join our government in finding made-in-Ontario solutions to ensure we continue to stay well supplied,” he said.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner endorsed the Progressive Conservative government’s initiative.

“These times of crisis bring out the best in people and we are counting on businesses to mobilize in support of our healthcare system. I support the premier’s call for businesses to step up and for the government to offer them support to do so,” said Schreiner, who said firms in his Guelph riding are already in touch.”I appreciate the government’s quick response.”

Ford also promised relief soon for Ontario electricity customers concerned about paying peak hydro rates while they are self-isolating at home during the pandemic.

The premier said cabinet met Friday night to discuss how to lower rates and said an announcement would be coming “in the next few days.”

“It’s just one small way of helping people. These measures may not be permanent, but what we want to do is give relief to families and take the burden off people,” he said.

“If they’re at home all day because they’re self-isolating, they may want to do the wash at noon time instead of waiting till night time and off-peak hours. They might want to do some vacuuming. They should have that flexibility and we’ll make sure we give them that flexibility to get through these tough times.”

Hailing Ontarians for “coming together,” Ford, who declared a state of emergency in the province on Tuesday, reiterated that people should stay at home to prevent the spread of the disease.

Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, implored people to maintain social distancing and “stay home.”

“If we as a province cannot moderate the rate of growth of new COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization, Ontario’s critical care services face potentially overwhelming odds,” warned Dale.

“It is the duty of everyone in Ontario to take action – today — to protect the finite critical care capacity needed to sustain the lives of patients needing hospitalization because of COVID-19. These patients won’t be strangers. They will be our parents, grandparents and other family members, our neighbours, and our friends,” he said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest public health threat in Ontario’s history. The decisions all of us make today to prevent its spread and protect the most vulnerable will be the legacy we leave to future generations.”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie