Chris Hall: Freeland pitches 'made in Canada' supply lines as country braces for 2nd COVID wave

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canadian companies need to shift critical supply lines home from overseas as the world prepares for a second wave of COVID-19.

The government is asking manufacturers to build up domestic supply lines to prepare for the next catastrophe

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the federal government wants to see Canadian manufacturing build up domestic supply lines to prepare for future crises like the pandemic. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canadian companies need to shift critical supply lines home from overseas as the world prepares for a second wave of COVID-19.

"I think that one of the consequences of coronavirus is going to mean, for the economy, a shift from a sort of just-in-time, get-the-very-cheapest-input-possible model, to a model that puts a greater emphasis on resilience, puts a greater emphasis on supply chains that are closer to home," Freeland said in an interview airing Saturday on the CBC's ​The House.

The interview covered a range of topics, including a letter sent this week by a group of retired politicians and diplomats calling on the federal government to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition warrant.

That letter argues Meng's case is preventing Canada from defining and pursuing an effective foreign strategy with China. It also claims ending her extradition case could facilitate the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians arrested by Chinese authorities in what Canada says was an act of retaliation for Meng's arrest.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland talks COVID-19, Canadians detained in China and NAFTA 2.0.

'Hostage diplomacy'

"China has now openly admitted that the detention of the two Michaels is connected to the Meng case," Freeland told The House, calling the imprisonment of the two men an act of "hostage diplomacy" by China.

Freeland said that if Canada were to release Meng in exchange for China freeing Kovrig and Spavor, it would send a signal "to every authoritarian regime out there" that the way to get what they want out of Canada is to "arbitrarily detain and arrest a couple of Canadians ...

"I think that would be a terrible, dangerous precedent to set."

Canada's deteriorating relationship with China has threatened to interfere with its pandemic response. The superpower is a major supplier of goods to Canadian businesses — including the personal protective equipment (PPE) badly needed by medical personnel fighting COVID-19.

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Stockpiling for a rainy day

Freeland said making the country less reliant on overseas suppliers is a key part of the federal government's approach as it prepares for future waves of COVID-19 infections.

That message mirrors a warning Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, delivered in April when he called on Canadian manufacturers to switch from "just in time" to "just in case" deliveries of key supplies.

He argued that keeping stockpiles handy would serve as a hedge against future calamities while creating jobs in Canada.

Back in the spring, the global stampede to secure supplies of key protective medical equipment like masks, face shields and gloves laid bare the fragility of just-in-time supply lines in an emergency. The federal government, working with the provinces, has moved aggressively to increase domestic production of PPE.

At a news availability Friday at an Ottawa brewery which is now producing hand sanitizer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is close to closing its PPE gap.

"We're now getting to a place where we're close to self-sufficient on (PPE) and able to turn that around and share with the world, particularly the developing world," he said.

Convincing major Canadian manufacturers to lean more on domestic supply chains — rather than on material produced more cheaply overseas — represents a new type of challenge for the federal government, even as the new North American trade deal officially kicks in on Canada Day.

While she acknowledged that the pandemic exposed significant weaknesses, Freeland told ​The House​ that Canada will continue to depend on and promote global trade deals.

"But I do think this is a moment for us to also be thinking more than ever about the value of resilience here in our own country," she said. "And that's one of the reasons ... as we get ready for further coronavirus outbreaks, that we've been putting such an emphasis on made-in-Canada production."

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