Canada has a huge surplus of unused ventilators

In response to the crisis, the federal government quickly ordered just over 40,000 ventilators worth C$1.1 billion, the vast majority of them from Canadian manufacturers who started building lifesaving ventilators from scratch.

It was heralded at the time as a success story of Canadian ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit. By May 2021, over 27,000 ventilators have been delivered. But the pandemic’s worst-case scenarios never materialized, and most of the machines were never needed.

The federal government has received 27,687 ventilators out of 40,000 ordered, according to data provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Of these, only 2,048 were deployed, including several hundred donated to developing countries.

A total of 25,964 ventilators are in the national strategic emergency reserve, a reserve of medical and emergency equipment that provinces and territories can request when it runs out.

Public Services and Purchasing Canada is working with suppliers to reduce order volumes. The department did not say how much of the 1.1 billion Canadian dollars was paid to suppliers and whether the government would save some of that money by canceling orders.

“The Government of Canada is working with Canadian suppliers to identify opportunities to reduce order volumes and support them as these contracts end,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Because negotiations are currently underway, we cannot disclose further details related to the payment.”

Infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said the ventilator glut is a “pleasant problem” in light of the nightmarish scenarios doctors in New York and Italy faced at the start of the pandemic.

“In these circumstances, ordering a large number of fans, I think, was a very understandable decision,” he said. “They make me sleep a little better at night.”

But he also raised the question of what maintenance the machines in the warehouse would need to keep them in good working order.

The government website lists 15 vendors that the government has signed ventilator contracts with, but the largest are five Canadian vendors: CAE Inc., Canadian Emergency Ventilators Inc. (leads StarFish Medical), EPM Global Services Inc., Thornhill Medical and FTI Professional Grade Inc., a consortium of companies brought together at the initiative of Rick Jamieson, an auto parts manufacturer.

The FTI Professional Grade came under scrutiny in late 2020 due to the involvement of former Liberal MP Frank Baylis. The consortium hired Baylis Medical as a subcontractor to help build the machines, but Jamison and Baylis insisted that his political career had nothing to do with his involvement in the project.

FTI has been awarded a C$237 million contract to supply 10,000 ventilators, which the consortium says will be fully delivered by the end of 2020. PHAC says 9,056 of those ventilators are currently in stock for emergencies. A total of 403 cars were distributed throughout the country, and 539 were donated to India, Nepal and Pakistan. Two units were returned to the supplier.