Madam Chair, thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before this committee of the whole to discuss the supplementary estimates (A) for Public Services and Procurement Canada.
We are going through a truly unprecedented time. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single Canadian. It is affecting our health, our lifestyle and the economy.
It has changed our lives completely. While the potential for a second wave or a spike in cases is very real, we are now entering an economic recovery and a cautious reopening.
We all appreciate the measures Canadians have taken to curb the spread of the virus, and we are especially proud of the doctors, nurses and health care providers on the front lines. Their work is critical, and that is why my department remains so focused on procuring the personal protective equipment and the medical supplies they need.
As the government's central purchasing agent, Public Services and Procurement Canada is working aggressively to support Canada's response to the evolving pandemic. It is buying equipment and supplies for the immediate term, as well as preparing for the medium to long term by ensuring Canada has enough PPE, testing components and other required supplies as our economy recovers.
At the same time, my department continues its critical work in other areas, including eliminating the backlog of pay issues and stabilizing the Phoenix pay system to ensure our extremely hard-working public servants are paid accurately and on time.
To support its overall operations, the department is requesting $745 million in aggregate in supplementary estimates (A).
To begin, I will address procurement during COVID-19. This comprises our largest request, which is $500 million for COVID-19 procurement. This funding would allow us to continue to be proactive in aggressively acquiring critical PPE and health supplies, both at home and abroad.
Our aggressive approach to COVID-19 procurement is working. While we face ongoing challenges and risks, particularly with international supply chains, we have seen significant progress since the early days of Canada's response. We now have flights carrying critical PPE and other supplies arriving daily. We have supplies coming to us from partners in the United States and elsewhere. We are now transporting supplies by sea as well.
At the same time, our government has called on Canadian companies to ramp up domestic manufacturing, to retool and produce right here at home. As a result, companies from across the country have answered the call and, in some cases, have completely retooled their production lines. My department, in conjunction with ISED, is working to continue to increase domestic production.
For example, Medicom will be making tens of millions of N95 respirators and surgical masks annually, right here in Canada. Bauer Hockey, out of Blainville, Quebec, has retooled from making hockey equipment and is providing us with face shields for front-line health care workers, along with Sterling Industries and The Canadian Shield, which are both based in Ontario.
GM in Oshawa will be making 10 million surgical masks and face coverings for Canadians over the coming year. Fluid Energy Group in Calgary, as well as Irving Oil in Atlantic Canada, are providing us with millions of litres of hand sanitizer. LuminUltra, a company from New Brunswick, is producing enough reagent for half a million COVID-19 tests per week through to March 2021.
These domestic manufacturers are playing a critical role in the fight against COVID-19 while sustaining and even creating jobs for Canadians when we need them most.
We are also making it faster and easier for all Canadians to purchase PPE. We've recently launched our new PPE supply hub, a web-based platform with important resources to connect buyers and sellers of PPE right across Canada.
We are meeting the need when it comes to the federal procurement of PPE, but we cannot stop now. As our economy reopens, more Canadians will be returning to work and the need will continue, including if a second wave occurs. In particular, we know Canada may face spikes in COVID-19 infections, and we must be prepared for all eventualities.
Today's request for funds will allow us to do just that.
I will move now to pay stabilization.
That brings me to our request for $203.5 million to continue our work on stabilizing the Phoenix pay system. Even in this crisis, the Phoenix pay system remains a priority for our government because Canada's public servants deserve to be paid accurately and on time.
Even throughout the crisis, we have not lost sight of the hardships and the frustrations employees face, and we know there is still much work to be done to stabilize the Phoenix pay system. However, PSPC continues to work every day to improve service and eliminate the backlog of outstanding pay issues.
Our efforts are paying off. Since January 2018, the backlog of financial transactions has decreased by 64%. The hard work of our pay centre employees has led to a steady decline in the backlog, even over the last couple of months, despite the complexities the pandemic has brought to the workplace.
I want to take a moment during this National Public Service Week to thank those public servants for their hard work and dedication during this difficult and challenging time. Because of their efforts over April and May alone, we have been able to reduce the queue by about 29,000 transactions, while also administering pay every two weeks for the close to 300,000 public servants right across the country.
While we are trending in the right direction, the task will not be complete until the backlog is cleared. The funds we are requesting today will allow us to continue our progress by sustaining employee capacity, increasing our processing rate and increasing the automation of as many transactions as possible through system enhancements.
At this crucial time, Canadians need our services more than ever, and we are here for them. These requests for funds cover two of our most pressing issues. Essential work needs to be done on these files, and PSPC is ready to rise to the challenge.
As minister, I am proud of our department's work to support the federal government and the needs of all Canadians, especially during this global crisis.
During this National Public Service Week, I am especially thankful for the public servants, including those at PSPC, who are continuing to deliver critical services to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.