Evidence of meeting #8 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was testing.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pat Whalen  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, LuminUltra Technologies Ltd.
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Paul Cardegna
Paul Lem  Chief Executive Officer, Spartan Bioscience Inc.
Kevin Smith  President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

11:55 a.m.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, LuminUltra Technologies Ltd.

Pat Whalen

We haven't had any limitations ourselves. We already use substantial amounts of PPE in our manufacturing facilities, and so we had gloves, N95 masks, face shields and all of these things already on hand. We haven't had any kind of interruption in that supply chain just based on its maturity.

Noon

Chief Executive Officer, Spartan Bioscience Inc.

Paul Lem

I think our added advantage, in addition to what Mr. Whalen said, is that we have that equipment too, but we actually test our employees every three days, because we have all of these portable COVID-19 tests.

Noon

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

Yes, I guess that's an advantage you have.

How much time do I have, Tom?

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

You have very little, Mr. Redekopp. I would like to suggest that we shut off your questioning now so that I can thank both of our witnesses.

Mr. Whalen and Mr. Lem, your testimony has been fascinating and extremely helpful to our committee.

Mr. Lem, I understand that you have to leave right now for a meeting.

Mr. Whalen, you indicated you would be willing to stay for an extra 10 or 15 minutes. Please stay connected, Mr. Whalen. I'm not sure whether there will be time for any questions for you, but you can certainly leave the meeting when you have to.

With that, colleagues, we're going to suspend for just a moment while we set up for our next witness.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Colleagues, we will reconvene.

Our first witness is Dr. Kevin Smith from the University Health Network.

Dr. Smith, I would ask you to please keep your remarks as concise as possible. We lost a little bit of time due to technology problems, and we must adjourn at one o'clock sharp.

The floor is yours.

12:10 p.m.

Dr. Kevin Smith President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's a pleasure for me to be before your committee today.

I want to first recognize the Government of Canada's quick motion on the development of programs during this unprecedented time of COVID-19. This pandemic has been devastating to those infected and of course their families, and debilitating economically to many, both individuals and businesses.

I would also like to talk a bit today about how much it has affected our research enterprise. It's a stark and shocking reality to civil society about our most vulnerable citizens, particularly our frail seniors in long-term care. In my humble opinion, it's critical for this committee and all Canadians to learn from this global pandemic and better prepare for the future with COVID and other infectious diseases that will indeed visit us in the future.

I do want to mention that Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Deputy Prime Minister's office, many ministers, staff and the entire public service, including the Canadian Armed Forces in the case of our long-term care community, have been accessible and available and reactive, at least to those outreaches that University Health Network has been fortunate to make, as have our local MPs and their staff.

Our focus, in my view, has to be on protecting the most at-risk populations as well as protecting providers, who have struggled, as we know, with personal protective equipment and the very fragile supply chain and research ecosystem. No doubt there will be a new world order for health care and health after this pandemic. That does call us to look at a new model of funding and the structure to fund health care from coast to coast to coast. Health care costs have outstripped funding for a number of years. In costs to the continuum of care, nowhere has this been more obvious in this pandemic than for our frail and those living in sheltered environments.

We also want to look at a new social contract, in my view, between Ottawa and the provinces and territories as we move to a pan-Canadian approach post pandemic. We know that this pandemic is likely to revisit us in other waves in the not-so-distant future. I would encourage the committee to engage providers and, more importantly, consumers and families, as well as the three levels of government that we have worked with throughout this pandemic, including the municipalities, which have been so essential to public health. Long-term care and congregate care must receive a deep dive and a better understanding of where we go from here.

I would also encourage a look at asking what problems we are trying to solve that are clearly defined, and why they are being solved, in this order. For me, number one is looking at frail and vulnerable Canadians and their subpopulations. Number two is looking at the supply chain and the lack of Canadian production of PPE, drugs, ventilators and a number of other issues related to access as well as a healthy stockpile. It surprised me to discover that one of the things keeping me up at night during this pandemic, as the CEO of Canada's largest and most research-intensive hospital, the University Health Network, is actually the production and reception of swabs. It's not our highest technology, but it's an incredibly important one in a pandemic.

I will close by focusing on the very fragile hospital-based research ecosystem and the vulnerability of the people who make that up. These are all people who live very fragile.... I don't mean the principal investigators but their staff, research assistants, graduate students, research nurses and post-doctoral fellows. The funding for this work is even more fragile. Most of it has been funded by third party dollars and foundations and industry, all of whom have been decimated in many ways by this. The research tap has been firmly turned off for this population, which could result in the loss of a highly skilled workforce at a time when we need research colleagues more than ever.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Thank you very much, Dr. Smith.

We will now go into our first six-minute round.

We'll start with Mr. Redekopp.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

Thank you, Dr. Smith, for being here today. It's good to have you. I appreciate all the work that you and your hospitals are doing in this pandemic.

Let's pick up with where you ended, on research funding. Have you noticed any changes since this pandemic started, or is it too soon to say what you're seeing out there for funding?

12:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

Dr. Kevin Smith

Yes, we have noticed a great deal of change. A number of organizations, private agencies and foundations, have indicated that they would not be able to continue to meet their research funding commitments. Others have asked for a pause, as they don't know what their fiscal position is.

For all of our hospital-based foundations and university-related fundraising, the returns on investment are obviously very threatened. This is often concluded by looking at investment revenue, which we know has been dramatically affected and much more so than in 2008, when we saw the last very significant shock to research funding.

In addition, we continue to work with the tri-councils and CFI, which is encouraging. However, again, in the population that is related to industrial-sponsored research, with the impact on industry's funding and industry's revenue streams, we are also seeing a pause.

In the very near future, within the next two weeks, if we don't find a better structure and strategy, there is capacity for approximately 10,000 to 15,000 layoffs in the research community nationally.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

Wow. Is Thornhill Medical one of the organizations associated with your health network? I read that they do ventilator production.

12:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

Dr. Kevin Smith

Yes. One of the founders, who is one of the scientific directors, Dr. Joe Fisher, is a member of the medical staff and a distinguished member and researcher at the University Health Network. Thornhill Medical was a spinoff, actually, of some of the research done some 25 years ago at UHN.

During this process, through procurement with the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada, we have secured a number of ventilators and what I think the company markets as an ICU in a box, a very impressive product often deployed to military installations for field hospitals.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

Did you approach them or did they approach you, and was that a sole-source contract?

12:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

Dr. Kevin Smith

We approached them and we sourced on behalf of the Province of Ontario. Ontario health actually requested the support of UHN's procurement division, because we were set up in a large enterprise to do so. We then worked closely with two ministries, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Economic Development. The Government of Ontario made the decision to select them as a vendor and then instructed us to purchase.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

I assume there are patents involved in this. Was there any talk or provision for outsourcing production of this to other manufacturers?

12:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

Dr. Kevin Smith

Yes. Under one of my other hats, I was asked to lead the command table for critical care in Ontario during this pandemic. The premier and his colleagues had us convene with a number of large production facilities—large enterprises, particularly in auto manufacturing—about converting those environments to manufacture ventilators. Because of the urgent need, the time frame for converting an auto manufacturing environment to a medical supply company has been significant and not without challenge.

The other piece, which members of this committee will appreciate, is that many of the parts and source materials for ventilators and other products cross our borders multiple times before a final product is realized. That has introduced some challenge into a very rapid time frame of production and then distribution, so the numbers produced in the short term have been modest.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

How do you protect yourself, from a patent perspective, when you're allowing other people to build your products?

12:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

Dr. Kevin Smith

I should be clear: It is not our product any longer. A spinoff from UHN, Thornhill Medical, has done so, as I understand it, with the purchasers.

Also, there are a number of open source ventilators, for example, from a number of vendors. I'll speak to one that I know of, although I am sure there are many more.

There is a project in Ireland that has provided open source plans. Many of you will have heard that Medtronic, a multinational company that produces ventilators, has taken one of their older, simpler machines and made it open source and waived any patent issue for production during the pandemic period.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Redekopp Conservative Saskatoon West, SK

Switching over to PPE, I noticed that you have a standard of ethics on purchasing. In this environment, has that made it challenging to get PPE, to source it first of all and to have good-quality PPE?

12:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network

Dr. Kevin Smith

It has been very challenging. As we know, very few of the more common materials have continued to be made in North America, so we have attempted to source most of them internationally at the same time as the world is sourcing those materials.

In working with the Government of Canada, we were the purchasing agent for a very large number of masks and other supplies, which unfortunately did not come to fruition, in the order of 100 million masks.

Unfortunately we have not seen the large international orders realized and landed on the ground. This was complicated slightly, I think, by transport through the continental United States. There was an expectation that orders would be shipped to Canada, but at one point the United States government made some changes in what they were willing to ship outside of the country.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to our next intervenor.

Mr. MacKinnon, you have six minutes, please.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon Liberal Gatineau, QC

Are you sure it's me? I thought it was Mr. Drouin.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

It can be anyone you wish. I had you down on our list, but it you wish to cede your time to one of your colleagues, go right ahead.

Do you wish to cede your time to one of your colleagues?

May 1st, 2020 / 12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It's Mr. Kusmierczyk who is up.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Okay. That's fine. I had Mr. MacKinnon on my list.

Mr. Kusmierczyk, six minutes go to you.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Irek Kusmierczyk Liberal Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Dr. Smith, thank you very much for your presentation. Happy National Physicians' Day, today, to you and all your colleagues, who are doing tremendous work all across our country in these critical times. Please do pass that along from all of us.

The Government of Canada, or Prime Minister Trudeau, announced last week a $1.1-billion pledge for funding towards vaccine development, clinical trials and country-wide testing. Have you had an opportunity yet to speak with officials about that announcement and how that funding will be making its way to organizations such as UHN?