OTTAWA – Opposition MPs grilled former Liberal MP Frank Baylis Friday on his company’s part in a COVID-19 contract, but Baylis and his business partner insisted they have done nothing but provide nearly 8,000 medical ventilators during a pandemic.
Baylis was a one-term Liberal MP, elected in 2015, who declined to run for reelection in 2019. He was part of a consortium of companies that received a $237-million contract to provide 10,000 ventilators in the spring.
Rick Jamieson, president of FTI Professional Grade and an auto-parts manufacturer, told MPs the idea of the contract was his. He said he worried Canada would become like Italy or the United States where the machines ran in short supply and had to be rationed during the early days of the pandemic.
“I really realized this was an opportunity for me to step up and help the country. I was personally motivated to take action and help,” he said.
Jamieson said he brought on Baylis Medical as a subcontractor because the company had decades of experience building medical equipment. He said his political donations had been to Conservatives in the past and there was never any conspiracy to funnel business to Baylis. He said he wasn’t even aware Baylis was a former MP until it became a news story.
“I did not know Mr. Baylis, number one, and number two, it never dawned on me that politics would ever enter into my relationships with my subcontractors.”
He said his company has delivered 7,788 ventilators to the public health agency and will finish its contract of 10,000 by the end of December.
“Our ventilator is versatile. It has features and benefits to address acute and non-acute hospital care, long-term care, and in home environments. We’re extremely proud that FTI has delivered 7,788 ventilators to the public health agency.”
The ventilators are based on the design of a U.S. company that granted a licence waiving their patent for their use during the pandemic. FTI Professional Grade is offering them at roughly $23,000 each, approximately $10,000 more expensive than they were in the U.S.
Conservative MP Pierre Paul Hus demanded to know why the government was paying more.
Neil Godara, a vice-president at Baylis Medical, said the company wanted to keep prices down, but the ventilators come with more filters and other accessories than the U.S. model. Parts for the machine were also in high demand and the entire supply chain had to be built from scratch.
“The ventilator we’re providing is more than the base ventilator because we had to accessorize and configure the ventilator for appropriate use with COVID,” he told MPs. “We had to establish a completely new manufacturing facility, dedicated specifically for ventilator production. We had to hire 250 people.”
NDP MP Charlie Angus asked Baylis if he had spoken with the ethics commissioner about the contract. He also asked Baylis, a former member of the ethics committee, if he understood why the contract needed close review.
“Do you see why these questions need to be asked, so that we can reassure the public that the contracts that are awarded are meeting all the ethical standards, so that there aren’t favours being done for people who are former public office holders?” said Angus.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking questions. I do think there’s something wrong with casting aspersions
Baylis said he hadn’t spoken with the ethics commissioner, but also said he had not spoken with the prime minister or any cabinet member about the project. The ethics commissioner declined a request to investigate, because it was out of his authority.
“I understand that as a past member of Parliament that things will be politicized,” he said. I understand that, I’m not naive. I can tell the Canadian people, I can say unequivocally, I did not use any relationships to try and get any contract.”
He said he understood the politics and the optics, but had been disappointed by the tone of the debate around the contract in Parliament.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking questions. I do think there’s something wrong with casting aspersions.”
He said his company has the expertise to help with this difficult procurement and given the potential stakes he didn’t feel he could say no.
“That situation that happened in Europe, that situation that happened in the United States where people were about to die because of lack of access to medical care will not happen in Canada,” he said. “When Mr Jamieson called us up. Will you help? Will you help us? The answer then ethically was yes.”