Special Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic: May 7, 2020

Date: May 7, 2020

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Amazon COVID-19 supply distribution deal

Context

On April 1, 2020 the Government of Canada entered into an agreement with Amazon to help manage the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies purchased by the government, to support the COVID-19 response. Amazon is providing these services to Canadians at cost, without profit until June 30th.

Suggested response

If pressed on the rationale for Amazon:

If pressed on the Public Health Agency of Canada's role:

If pressed on Amazon's role:

If pressed on Canada Post and Purolator's role:

If pressed the health and safety of workers:

Background

On April 1st, 2020, the Government of Canada signed an agreement with Amazon for access its technology interface where the supplies will be catalogued to allow provincial and territorial health authorities to order them directly through the Amazon business store.

The delivery of the personal protective equipment and supplies ordered and approved by the PHAC will be done by Purolator when for large shipments and by Canada Post for smaller shipments. The personal protective equipment and supplies is currently warehoused at the facility of Maritime Ontario in Brampton, where the technology of Amazon has been installed to treat the orders of provincial and territorial health authorities. Maritime Ontario is an on-going key sub-contractor of Canada Post.

Canada will pay to Amazon its standard costs without profit until June 30th, 2020. Amazon fees after June 30, 2020 will be lower than Amazon's standard commercial fees for the same services.

This agreement will support the distribution of vast quantities of masks, gloves and other equipment purchased by the government to front-line healthcare workers and others in need as quickly as possible.

Canada Post: Health and safety

Context

Canada Post continues to provide a vital service to Canadians under difficult circumstances, with employees continuing to operate in the field delivering parcels. Canada Post announced on March 19, 2020 that they are doing everything possible to continue its service while keeping the health and safety of its staff as its number one priority.

Suggested Response

If pressed on health and safety:

Canada Post is taking action to protect employees and customers, including

If pressed on volume and delays:

If pressed on distribution of the Epoch Times:

If pressed on obligations:

Background

On March 19, 2020, Canada Post released a letter stating its number one priority is the health and safety of its employees. They encouraged employees who can work from home to do so. However, the majority of its employees are in the field delivering packages.

Canada Post has eliminated the need for customers to sign for parcels at the door to minimize personal contact. It has also suspended normal delivery guarantees for its parcel services as delivering safely without overburdening its employees requires more time.

Canada Post has been experiencing "Christmas level" volumes during this pandemic. For example, on Monday April 20, they delivered more than 1.8 million parcels to Canadians. That is similar to the biggest delivery days during the Christmas season. Canada Post has introduced several measures to encourage physical distancing and limit contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a "Knock, Drop and Go" approach for parcel delivery. This change eliminates the need for signatures at the door, speeds up delivery and has greatly reduced the number of parcels sent to post offices for pickup. Items that require signatures due to proof of age will be required to be picked up at the retail counter in a more controlled environment, where physical distancing can be accommodated.

International competition and export restrictions impacting personal protective equipment procurement

Context

Countries have begun curbing the export of personal protective equipment (PPE), increasing competition for the procurement of these goods. Media has also reported on several instances of medical supplies procured from unfamiliar overseas suppliers not meeting advertised quality standards.

Suggested response

If pressed on quality-issues of medical supplies:

If pressed on International Export Restrictions:

If pressed on a plane departing China without cargo:

Background

Global demand for medical supplies remains high for the fight against COVID-19, and competition remains fierce for their delivery. The federal government is procuring materials from a variety of sources, including from overseas suppliers. In addition to federal supply purchases, provinces and cities are also sourcing their own equipment.

Countries have moved to restrict the export of face masks, gloves and other medical supplies critical for front-line workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a more time-consuming procurement process. Sixty-eight countries — Canada is not among them — have curbed exports of PPE or medicine. China is the largest supplier of PPE in the world, and global supply was impacted when the country had to shut down its factories earlier this year when the outbreak began. Canada has taken a two-pronged approach to the acquisition of supplies, by scaling up domestic capacity while seeking to acquire PPE internationally.

The federal government has recently hired private firms to provide quality assurance before supplies are shipped to Canada, and the federal public health agency does further checks before distributing goods.

Federal construction work

Context

Construction work continues for critical federal health and safety infrastructure. Work also continues within the Parliamentary Precinct, in line with recommendations and the approach taken by the Ontario government.

Suggested response

If pressed on the Parliamentary Precinct:

If pressed on the Canadian Construction Association Request to support industry:

Background

PSPC continues to monitor the situation to ensure that any decision regarding construction sites respects the advice of public health officials and aligns with the Canadian Construction Association's (CCA) standardized COVID-19 protocols for all Canadian construction sites and respective provincial and territorial government direction.

The CCA has voiced their support for keeping federal construction sites open and its workforce employed on project sites that can meet a high standard of health and safety measures and that involve defence, security, infrastructure and the administration of justice and government. Federal unions (e.g., Unionized Building & Construction Trades Council) have also written to the Minister directly expressing their gratitude for maintaining jobs by keeping the Parliament Hill site open specifically, noting that it is among the safest in the country.

PSPC has taken steps to significantly reduce construction activities in the Parliamentary Precinct as a result of the announcement by the Government of Ontario on Friday, April 3, 2020 to scale back construction activity throughout the province.

In addition to continuing work on the Centre Block and the East Block, PSPC will also continue emergency repairs and maintenance work to ensure the continued safe operations of parliamentary facilities. This is directly aligned with Province of Ontario direction.

Projects not aligned with the revised Province of Ontario directives have paused construction work. The 85 demobilized projects are in three primary categories:

Status of defence procurement projects

Context

Due to COVID-19, several defence procurement projects have halted or slowed, including the construction and maintenance of ships.

Suggested response

If pressed on the budget, delays and impact:

If pressed on the third yard:

If pressed on the Polar Icebreaker:

If pressed on the Future Fighter Capability Program:

If pressed on ‘excusable delay' requests:

Background

In response to COVID-19, Irving Shipbuilding Inc. (ISI) has suspended most industrial operations, production at Vancouver Shipyards (VSY) remains ongoing and the Province of Quebec has declared Chantier Davie an essential service.

ISI has suspended most industrial operations as of March 20, 2020. The initial 3-week pause has since been extended. The suspension impacts about 1,100 employees, while special measures for working from home or within ISI's offices have been implemented for remaining employees. Design work for the Canadian Surface Combatant continues through the suspension, along with limited work for the first and second Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships.

Operations at VSY continue but are being closely monitored. White collar workers not in direct support of production are working from home, while other measures being taken include following self-isolation guidelines, additional social distancing measures, cancelling large gatherings and increased cleaning. VSY has been working closely with WorkSafeBC in implementing these practices, and adjusting and escalating actions in response to new regulations and guidance.

On March 24, 2020, in response to COVID-19, the Quebec Government published a list of essential industrial sectors, under which Chantier Davie qualified. Chantier Davie has conducted on-site training for dealing with COVID-19, implemented a set of strict directives, and negotiated with their union to maintain intact squads instead of rotating employees through different teams. Nonetheless the workforce numbers and capacity has diminished to accommodate the social distancing measures implemented.

A number of Canadian defence suppliers have reached out to government officials identifying the need for urgent support, as they are experiencing serious cash flow difficulties resulting from reduced activities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic situation. In collaboration with other government organizations and central agencies, Public Services and Procurement Canada is currently exploring measures to support the defence industry.

Procurement of medical supplies

Context

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has been working aggressively with domestic and international suppliers, along with provincial and territorial governments to procure medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Suggested response

If pressed on domestic suppliers:

If pressed on provincial and territorial collaboration:

If pressed on providing the private sector with PPE:

Background

The government is taking an aggressive, proactive procurement approach to fulfill immediate and future requirements. This includes buying in bulk from reputable distributors, to secure key items like masks and ventilators, which are in high global demand.

As the requirements across the country are rapidly evolving, the federal government is closely collaborating with the provinces and territories to ensure their needs are accurately identified in a timely manner. In addition, the government has shifted its procurement approach to anticipate future needs rather than only current requirements.

In addition, across Canada, governments are encouraging efforts to ramp up domestic manufacturing to reduce reliance on international supply chains but it is not clear when that will scale up enough to replace or supplement global procurement.

Harrington Lake renovations

Context

The National Capital Commission (NCC) recently released the amount allocated to rehabilitate the Prime Minister's Harrington Lake summer residence, with investments totaling $8.6 million. The funding comes after a 2018 report found the residence to be in critical condition, requiring $17 million of repairs and renovations.

Suggested response

Background

While the main cottage at Harrington Lake is 95 years old, most of the buildings were built between 1850 and 1925. Harrington Lake, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, is used for both official and private functions, with buildings that can accommodate official business as well as state visits.

Harrington Lake last saw major capital investment during the 1950s (over 60 years ago); the property has not seen any investment since 2005, when the NCC made critical repairs to the roofing, eavestroughs, piping, electrical, mechanical and structural systems of the property.

Given the precarity of its condition, the Harrington Lake property was deemed to be in critical condition in the NCC's 2018 Official Residences of Canada: Asset Portfolio Condition Report (see pages 38 to 43). At the time, the NCC estimated the capital investment required for rehabilitation of the residence and all its ancillary buildings at $17.8 million.

Of NCC's $8.6 million investment, $6.1 million is to address critical condition and life cycle requirements of the main cottage, including window replacement/rehabilitation, insulation of walls and attic, chimney repairs, foundation damp proofing and functional improvements.

Constructed in the 1850s, the Harrington Lake farmhouse has been closed since 2008 due to health and safety concerns, and is in need of complete rehabilitation to prevent further deterioration and restore usability. The budget of this ongoing farmhouse rehabilitation work is $2.5 million over two years.

Phoenix status

Context

This note focuses on the continuity of pay services in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pay and pension services are essential, and we have the resources in place to make sure they are operating without interruption.

Suggested response

If pressed on specific measures for COVID-19:

If pressed on the Bouchard class action lawsuit for all employees affected by the Phoenix pay system:

Background

Services related to pay are considered essential and measures are in place to ensure that operational requirements are met.

Following the recommendation of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada asked all its employees, including those at the Public Service Pay Centre and the CCC, to work from home if possible, while ensuring the delivery of essential services.

The Pay Centre continues to deliver all of its pay services which include regular pay, return from leave, maternity and parental leave as well as disability insurance.

Supporting employees and eliminating the backlog remain our top priorities and we continue to see progress.

From Februarys 19 to Aprils 1,s 2020, the backlog of transactions with financial implication has decreased by 17,000. Over the past two years, since Januarys 2018, the backlog has decreased by 57%, from 384,000s tos 166,000 transactions.

The CCC remains the first point of contact for current and former federal public servants looking for information or help with compensation and benefits, and for technical issues when using the Compensation Web Applications or MyGCPay. Clients may, however, experience increased wait times when calling the CCC.

We are working closely with all our partners, including employees, unions, Members of Parliament offices, departments and their representatives from HR and pay, to provide support during this challenging time.

Eventual staged returns to the workplace

Context

A large proportion of the public service has transitioned to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Government offices remain open and have been maintained for essential and critical workers to support Government of Canada efforts nationally. This situation is now evolving as some key service functions are increasing their incremental presence in offices while remaining guided by public health agencies within regional jurisdictions.

Suggested response

If pressed on Government building Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems spreading COVID-19:

Background

PSPC continues to expand its body of guidance to departments to support them in establishing their plans for an eventual return to the workplace.

Return to the workplace strategies are being elaborated based on the client's nature of work, the functions to support services provided to Canadians, and the current configurations of their workplaces. Key practices include physical distancing for workstations, gathering rooms, and pathways for circulation within the work areas along with enhanced sanitation measures for workers including hand sanitizer and wipes for workspaces supported by guidelines recommended by the public health authorities to be accommodated within the workplace. Further, as other key employment infrastructure elements progressively resume, such as small businesses, schools and daycares, progressive back to work strategies will continue to require balancing office work with teleworking, sustaining and improving network infrastructure and bandwidth, and providing employees with access to mobility tools such as laptops, screens, mobile phones and virtual collaboration platforms to ensure continued program delivery.

Next steps

The department will continue engagement with central agencies and clients to collaborate on guidance for workplace return to work strategies. PSPC will also continue to advance procedures to ensure healthy and productive work environments for the resumption of occupancy in our buildings as guidance evolves.

Media article on the spread of COVID-19 through ventilation systems

A recent National Post article reference a Chinese study that was done on individuals who contracted Covid-19 while at a restaurant. The restaurant had a wall mounted air conditioning unit above the table with infected individuals that was blowing high velocity air into the rest of the restaurant.

Such high velocity air could transport and spread droplets that are released by infected individuals near the air conditioning unit beyond a 2 meter area of physical distancing. The mode of transmission for infection in this case is droplet spread that was influenced by the high velocity air from the wall mounted air conditioning unit.

Unlike the air conditioning system referenced in the Chinese study, the HVAC system(s) in PSPC buildings are centrally located and do not distribute air into the occupied zone at high velocity. The air that is distributed into the occupied spaces by the central HVAC system(s) promotes appropriate air circulation and removal of fine particles that are suspended in the air.

In response to Covid-19 PSPC has implemented the following additional HVAC measures to enhance occupant wellness in our buildings.

These measures are in keeping with industry guidance and consultation with Health Canada:

Rent relief measures for federal building occupants

Context

Public Services Procurement Canada (PSPC) has put in place measures to alleviate financial pressure on its commercial tenants during a period of low-building occupancy brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suggested response

Background

Given the health and safety measures put in place to contain COVID-19, buildings under Public Services and Procurement Canada's management are largely empty. As a result, commercial tenants may have experienced reductions in their business volumes.

In line with March 31, 2020, guidance from TBS on rent relief to external tenants, PSPC has taken steps to allow tenants to defer their rent payments for a three-month period effective April 1, 2020, for those businesses whose income has been affected by the COVID-19 containment measures. To date, rent deferrals were sought by 136 tenants for a total of $1.5 million for the three-month period.

On April 24, 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the federal government had reached an agreement in principle with all provinces and territories to implement the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) targeted for small businesses and non-profit organizations. This program will lower rent by 75% for businesses that have been affected by COVID-19 for a three-month period (April to June 2020).

On April 25, 2020, TBS Assistant Comptroller General sent a communique stating that, although CECRA does not apply to PSPC, as a custodian, it is required to ensure a whole-of-government approach to the implementation of the program. As such, custodians are expected to extend similar flexibilities to provide eligible tenants with appropriate rent relief. TBS's guidance will follow to ensure a consistent approach. Based on expected program criteria, it could equate to a total rent relief of up to $2.8 million (75% of $3.8 million in revenues from 263 leases).

Defence Construction Canada contract with Cegerco

Context

Cegerco, a Quebec-based general contractor based in Chicoutimi (Saguenay), won a contract bid in late 2016 to construct two buildings on Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Bagotville in Quebec. The project's completion was initially scheduled for December 2019, but delays have pushed back this this timeline to 2021. Cegerco has submitted a claim requesting additional compensation for the delays.

Suggested response

Background

On April 24, 2017, the Department of National Defence announced a contract valued at $46.9 million with Cegerco Inc. of Chicoutimi (Quebec) for the construction of two new buildings and the deconstruction of several old buildings at CFB Bagotville. The new buildings will be primarily dedicated to the maintenance and storage of aircraft maintenance support equipment and heavy vehicles such as snow plows. These buildings will also include administrative areas and parking spaces.

Cegerco claims changes made to the project represent an additional [Redacted] in costs, bringing the cost total closer to [Redacted] than the initial figure.

[Redacted]

Translation Bureau staff capacity

Context

Translation Bureau staffing capacity and wellness was raised by members of the Standing House Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) during a Translation Bureau's appearance on May 4, 2020.

Suggested response

Background

On May 4, 2020, during an exchange at PROC, the President of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees stated that out of the 70 Translation Bureau interpreters working in official languages during the pandemic, there are about 40 interpreters that are unable to work because of child care or health issues.

The Translation Bureau has confirmed that these numbers are not accurate.

From January 1, 2019 to March 15, 2020, there was one report of a disabling injury and one report of a minor injury. Both employees are now recovered and have returned to work. Both incidents were a result of traditional (in person) interpretation. During the same time period, there were 28 other hazardous occurrences reported related to poor sound quality (e.g., feedback, high-pitched noises, interference) and that resulted in fatigue, headaches, and hearing sensitivity. Two of these hazardous occurrences were related to remote interpretation (teleconferences), while the remainder were related to traditional interpretation.

With increased use of videoconferences over the last two months, there has been an increase in incident reports from interpreters, including headaches, earaches and fatigue due to poor sound quality. No acoustic shock or other injury requiring hospitalization has been reported.

From March 16, 2020 to April 29, 2020, there were no reported disabling or minor injuries. There were 39 other hazardous occurrences reported that related to poor sound quality that resulted, most commonly, in headaches, hearing sensitivities, and fatigue. Fourteen of those hazardous occurrences were related to teleconferences; 25 were related to videoconferences.

The Translation Bureau has provided its interpreters with headsets with sound limiters to protect against acoustic shock and implemented a series of hygiene and physical distancing measures. In addition, the Bureau requires its clients to take technical measures that promote not only the health of its interpreters but also high-quality interpretation. These include having a qualified audiovisual technician present at all times, remote participants' use of good quality headsets with built-in microphones and good quality Internet connections, and the provision documents to interpreters in advance of meetings.

The Translation Bureau's approach aligns very closely to international best practices, including the International Association of Conference Interpreters principles, guidance for institutions and best practices.

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