The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of Canada’s supply chain. A vulnerability that Jon Stanfield, president and CEO of Stanfield’s Ltd., says proves the country needs to protect and expand its domestic manufacturing capacity.
In an interview with Atlantic Business Magazine editor Dawn Chafe on June 12, Stanfield said that Canada’s manufacturing sector has been “beaten up” by free trade deals in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. “We let it go too far,” he says of the country’s reliance on international suppliers. That left Canada without a readily available domestic supply of essential personal protective equipment (PPE) when the pandemic hit the international community earlier this year.
Though Jon Stanfield had proactively shut down his plant on March 16 — to protect the health and safety of his workers — he quickly made plans to reopen. “We put our hand up,” he says. “We said, this is our time to help and do our part.”
It was no empty gesture: Jon Stanfield took action. Between March 16 and 23, he and his team sourced an appropriate fabric and pattern to make hospital gowns. The fabric was tested by Health Canada on a Thursday, approved on Friday and supply deals made with the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia by Monday. At the same time, they created and instituted measures to protect the safety of their workers. The plant reopened on April 7. Nine days later, Stanfield’s Ltd. — a l64-year-old, Truro, N.S.-based Canadian underwear company — released its first shipment of PPE. They’ve been making between 115,000 and 150,000 hospital gowns a week ever since.
While this is ultimately a good news story, Stanfield says they would have been able to react faster and ramp up more quickly if they had been producing a quantity of PPE all along.
While the Government of Canada has been working to mobilize Canadian manufacturers in the battle against Covid-19, there is no indication yet whether they plan to continue that investment when the crisis is past.
“Canada needs a long-term PPE manufacturing strategy,” says Stanfield. Establishing a constant dedicated level of made-in-Canada domestic supply will ensure the capability is there in times of need, he says.