Politics

Brewery received licence to make hand sanitizer the same day PM held photo op

An Ottawa brewery praised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for making hand sanitizer during the pandemic was given a licence to do so on the same day Trudeau visited for a photo op.

PMO would not say if it checked with Health Canada prior to Trudeau's appearance

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with Big Rig brewmaster Lon Ladell as he visits the brewery in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

An Ottawa brewery praised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for making hand sanitizer during the pandemic was given a licence to do so on the very day the PM visited it for a photo op.

Trudeau went to Big Rig Brewery in the capital's west end on June 26 to tout his government's efforts to support small businesses through measures like the wage subsidy.

Trudeau also applauded the brewery for producing hand sanitizer for local community organizations.

"Big Rig is one of the thousands of companies across the country stepping up to help their workers and their community during this tough time," he said.

"They started making hand sanitizer for local community organizations that do really important work, like the Kanata Food Bank, Shepherds of Good Hope and Chrysalis House. To keep up with the growing demand for hand sanitizer, food and beer, Big Rig used the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy."

But Health Canada says it received the Big Rig's application for a licence to produce hand sanitizer on June 26 — the day Trudeau visited the brewery. It issued the licence the same day.

When asked about the timing of the licence, the Prime Minister's Office told CBC News in an email that "Health Canada is responsible for approvals of licences."

Hundreds of breweries and distilleries across the country are licensed to produce hand sanitizer. (RCMP Newfoundland and Labrador/Facebook)

Asked by CBC News whether it had checked with Health Canada before Trudeau's visit to see if Big Rig was licensed to produce hand sanitizer, the PMO said it had no further comment.

Trudeau visited Big Rig last year with former U.S. president Barack Obama.

Hundreds of breweries and distilleries across the country have been licensed to produce hand sanitizer, according to Health Canada's database of licensed producers.

Health Canada told CBC News it could not say how long the licensing process typically takes, but said the department has expedited the process during the pandemic.

When asked about the licence in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the average wait time for approval is one to seven days.

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu said the average wait time for licensing approval is one to seven days. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Conservative MP Phillip Lawrence then asked Hajdu if Big Rig's approval was fast-tracked to be in place for the prime minister's visit. Hajdu said it wasn't.

"There is a very strong wall between the regulators at Health Canada and politicians," Hajdu said.

Hajdu also said she wasn't aware of anyone from the PMO discussing the licensing application with the brewery or Health Canada.

Manjit Minhas, co-owner of Minhas Breweries, Distillery and Wineries and one of the entrepreneurs on CBC-TV's Dragon's Den, applied for a licence to produce hand sanitizer in March.

She said it took five days to get her company a licence. She expected the process to take longer.

"We had heard it could take a few months," Minhas said.

Other breweries and distilleries contacted by CBC said the licensing process took anywhere from just under 48 hours to six days.

Big Rig Brewery did not respond to CBC's requests for comment.

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