Canadian government orders 10 million face masks from GM

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General Motors Canada says employees at its factory in Oshawa, Ontario, will manufacture 10 million masks over the next year for the government of Canada. Production began Tuesday.

GM Canada originally announced in late April that it would use its idled assembly plant to make face masks for health care workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The automaker said Tuesday that it will manufacture the face masks at cost for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand said in a statement that the agreement ensures “a steady and reliable domestic supply of this vital equipment.”

Neither the automaker nor government said how much the masks cost.

David Paterson, vice president of corporate and environmental affairs at GM Canada, would only say that the price was “very competitive” and that the automaker could offer an “assured supply” of masks, and do so quickly.

Paterson said the world is scrambling to manufacture personal protective equipment and that Canada alone will need an estimated three billion masks per year.

“The most valuable thing we offer is a guaranteed source of material,” he said.

Mask making in Oshawa is based on the process GM is using at its plant in Warren, Mich., that began a month before the work in Ontario.

Paterson said the automaker has no plans to make masks for its own employees, saying the Oshawa-made masks will be “100 percent for Canadians.”

“We already have other sources for face masks [for GM Canada],” he said. “We have our PPE requirements covered for Canada.”

It’s all part of the automaker’s global supply chain.

GM Canada President Scott Bell called the deal with the federal government “one of the proudest moments in our history.”

The company said it received its medical device establishment license on April 22. Over the course of a little more than three weeks, and with support from GM’s global supply chain, the company sourced materials, built a ‘Canadian Mask Making (CMM)’ clean room with enhanced safety protocols, installed the required equipment and recalled and trained 60 workers for two shifts of production in Oshawa in partnership with Unifor.

“Unifor members in Oshawa are highly skilled and proud to help GM make whatever our country needs to get through this pandemic,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said in the same statement.

The modern Oshawa assembly plant that produced its last vehicle on Dec. 19 dates back to 1953 and has produced everything from the Chevrolet Bel Air to the Chevrolet Silverado. 

The plant has been reduced to a stamping operation, building parts for discontinued models, although GM Canada said that work had not started yet. However, until the pandemic struck, it had been stamping parts for the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, where the automaker builds the Chevrolet Equinox.

The parts program gives the Oshawa plant a lease on life, albeit one that employs just 300 or so people, instead of the 2,600 that had been assembling cars and trucks for years. Each aftermarket part produced there will be built for 10 years, according to GM.

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Saurabh Shukla

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