Quebec’s unpreparedness and its delayed reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the province losing almost $1 billion in its procurement of personal protective equipment, the auditor general said Wednesday.
The government waited too long and then rushed into purchasing items such as masks and gloves at high prices, Guylaine Leclerc said in her report released Wednesday.
By the end of March 2021, the value of the equipment purchased by the province had dropped by $938 million, she said. Of that amount, the province lost $671 million in the value of its stockpile and another $267 million connected to contracts for equipment and prepaid orders.
“The Health Department didn’t plan any measures to create a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment in the event of a pandemic, such as making prior agreements with suppliers or creating a stockpile,” Leclerc wrote.
“It was therefore forced to urgently purchase equipment to protect the population while prices skyrocketed.”
Quebec spent $1.4 billion on procedural masks and N95 masks alone, she said.
Leclerc told reporters on Wednesday the government should have acted faster to procure equipment, noting that the first bulk purchases were made on March 22, 2020, despite the fact the first infection in the province was detected on Feb. 27 of that year.
“Quebec’s plan against an influenza pandemic was outdated,” Leclerc said in her report. “There was no measure put in place to facilitate the supply of personal protective equipment in the event of a pandemic and several employees lacked training on how to use the equipment.”
The auditor’s report noted that the government has launched lawsuits valued at $170 million in connection with orders for equipment that was never delivered or faulty.
“Faced with the urgent need to take action, the government procurement centre didn’t always verify the suppliers’ integrity and the quality of the personal protective equipment, which contributed to losses of nearly $15 million,” Leclerc said.
“Good management requires good planning.”
Premier François Legault on Wednesday dismissed the criticism in the report.
He said it’s easy to “rewrite history,” adding that his government did what it could.
Health Minister Christian Dubé, meanwhile, defended the government by stating the pandemic was unprecedented.
“We learned a lot from the first wave, which took everyone by surprise,” Dubé said in statement. “This is why we put in place a plan for the second wave, which included having a reserve of four to six months of personal protective equipment.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 11, 2022.
By Jocelyne Richer in Montreal