Increasing Canada’s strategic stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) was “not a top priority,” in the years before the novel coronavirus outbreak, the country’s minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion said.

In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Carla Qualtrough, who served as Canada’s minister of Public Services and Procurement (PSPC) from 2017 to 2019, said during her tenure with PSPC, officials “didn’t turn our minds as much” to updating Canada’s PPE reserve despite warnings after the SARS outbreak that another pandemic could occur.

“We were very focused, as you know, on defence procurement, on getting the coast guard the ships they need, on getting the navy, getting–fixing– Phoenix,” Qualtrough said.  “We had a lot on our plate as PSPC and that was not a top priority, no.”

She said the Canadian government moved to acquire more equipment in mid-to-late January.

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“I would say in mid-to-late January, we knew that this was an issue in terms of getting all of our ducks in a row, working with provinces and territories, and PSPC working with Public Health Agency,