Bottles of hand sanitizer produced at Dixon’s Distilled Spirits in Guelph. The hand sanitizer is being distributed for free to local health care providers and frontline workers. Photo: Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday
As the initial shock starts to wear off regarding the COVID-19 crisis and life settles into a “new normal” of social distancing, working from home or not working at all, business closures, quarantine and other drastic but necessary measures, more energy is being devoted to making a positive contribution to lessening the impact of the virus. Governments in Canada and abroad have launched efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, test the viability of existing medications to prevent or reduce the severity of the virus and find ways to stretch essential health care resources that are in short supply. Some creative Canadian doctors, for example, have found a way to “MacGyver” a ventilator so that it can be used for more than one patient at a time.
Businesses small and large are also stepping up to make a positive contribution. This past weekend the Ontario government issued a press release to encourage the business community to join the fight against Covid19, and set up a new website called Ontario Together to help businesses and their employees become involved. A key goal is to remove barriers to businesses to assist them to deploy existing capacity, where possible, to enable the production of essential equipment such as ventilators, masks, gloves and swabs. The website will permit companies to submit proposals and share creative solutions quickly. The auto parts industry has been closely involved in these efforts as they possess the type of manufacturing capability that could possibly be retooled to make needed supplies. And considering that Ontario has strong manufacturing and IT sectors, efforts undertaken here can also help other parts of Canada and elsewhere in the world. The Ontario Together website also contains a link to the federal government site which itemizes products and services the federal government is seeking to assist with its COVID-19 response.
Some businesses in other industries have come up with their own way to help the community cope. A number of companies in the liquor industry have begun making hand sanitizer to help offset the shortage of this product. Some manufacturers are looking into retooling their facilities to produce respirators. Some apparel manufacturers have been considering making masks and medical supply companies are moving to ramp up production to help cover off shortages. Online business networks have been changing their focus to adapt to a world where most people are working from home and personal contact is strictly limited. Much of this activity seems to be taking place on a pro bono basis, with businesses just looking to help out, not make money.
For the past few weeks, governments have all been understandably scrambling to come up with effective policies to fight COVID-19 in an environment of constantly changing information. One of the problems that has emerged, despite the best of intentions, is that we have a patchwork quilt of measures across the country with the federal government and the various provinces doing different things. Businesses and others that need help or could make a contribution are confused about where to go to access existing programs or provide input. The concept behind Ontario Together is to provide a one-stop resource for such information and ideas, which is badly needed at present. It could serve as a model for other governments to set up their own counterpart website, linked to all other provinces, territories and the federal government to facilitate quick and easy access to all governments, the programs and services they are providing and products and services in demand.
Canada’s COVID-19 response is very much a moving target, and sources that can consolidate information, cut through confusion and bolster confidence at this challenging time are greatly needed. This new Ontario government website is a good step in the right direction.
Catherine Swift is currently President and CEO of Working Canadians (www.workingcanadians.ca. Prior to that, Catherine Swift had been with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business since September 1987, initially as Chief Economist. She became Chair in June 1999 after being named Chief Executive Officer in July 1997 and President in May of 1995. Her various responsibilities included coordinating policy issues at federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, representing CFIB with politicians, government, business, media and other groups.
Ms. Swift has worked with the federal government in Ottawa holding several positions with the Departments of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Industry and Communications. Her areas of specialization included corporate and industrial analysis and international trade. Catherine Swift has a MA in Economics.
She has published numerous articles in journals, magazines and other media on such small business issues as free trade, finance, entrepreneurship and women small business owners. Ms. Swift is a Past President of the Empire Club of Canada, a former Director of the C.D. Howe Institute and past President of the International Small Business Congress. She was cited in 2003 and again in 2012 as one of the top 100 most powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network.