First N95 masks out the door at Brockville's 3M plant

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The first shipment of N95 respirators left Brockville’s expanded 3M plant at the start of this month, a milestone marked by federal and provincial officials at a virtual event Wednesday afternoon.

Calling it the “first of millions” of respirators slated to come off the newly-operational production line, 3M Canada president and managing director Penny Wise said the masks will keep health-care and other front-line workers safe amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The expansion will ensure a consistent supply of respirators make it into the hands of those Canadians who need them the most,” she added.

“The respirators that are now being produced at Brockville are a testament to what we can achieve when we work together.”

The expansion of the Brockville site has added 30 full-time jobs to the local economy.

The announcement follows the seven-month expansion of the California Avenue tape plant, which began in September. In late August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford were on hand to announce the expansion.

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3M Canada got $23.33 million each from the federal and provincial governments, with the company covering the remaining share of the $70-million project to expand the plant. The site will produce more than 50 million N95 masks a year as part of the five-year funding agreement.

Taking part in Wednesday’s virtual announcement were federal Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Public Service and Procurement Minister Anita Anand, as well as three provincial ministers, Vic Fedeli, minister of economic development, job creation and trade, Steve Clark, the MPP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes and the municipal affairs minister, and Lisa Thompson, minister of government and consumer services.

Anand saluted 3M’s work.

“We know that you’ve already delivered more than a million made-in-Canada N95 respirators and millions more are to come,” said the minister, adding this is the second supplier to deliver N95 masks domestically.

“It marks an important milestone in our domestic capabilities to respond to this pandemic.”

Asked whether the timing of the start of operations might be a little late, given that COVID-19 vaccines are now being administered across the country, Anand replied those shots are not a “silver bullet” in the pandemic fight, and front-line workers may need to wear personal protective equipment for some time still.

The expansion will also ensure sustained domestic production capacity of such equipment for years to come, she added.

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The announcement came at about the same time that Ford announced a new stay-at-home order across Ontario meant to tackle the third wave of COVID-19.

Champagne said the N95 respirators are the “gold standard” in personal protective equipment, and having them built in Brockville will “ensure greater resiliency for Canada when it comes to personal protective equipment.”

The investment in Brockville is part of an effort by the federal and provincial governments to secure local sourcing of personal protective equipment, after Canada found itself at the mercy of foreign suppliers at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Early on in the pandemic, Premier Ford pledged that Ontario’s front-line heroes would never again have to worry about PPE supplies,” Clark added, “and when he said that, I knew 3M and our community of Brockville could be part of that solution.”

“I literally drove by that vacant lot on California Avenue over and over again and every time I did I heard the premier’s words about never being beholden to another jurisdiction for PPE,” said Clark.

“We’re sending a message to health-care workers at the three hospitals that serve my riding, in long-term care, the staff on the front lines everywhere, that we’ve got your back.”

“It’s such pride that the people of this city and this riding feel.”

Rzajac@postmedia.com

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