Shelter Point Distillery near Oyster River had pivoted to produce hand sanitizer for Vancouver Island hospitals and first responders when a supply shortage loomed during the pandemic. (Shelter Point Distillery/Facebook)

Shelter Point Distillery near Oyster River had pivoted to produce hand sanitizer for Vancouver Island hospitals and first responders when a supply shortage loomed during the pandemic. (Shelter Point Distillery/Facebook)

MPs urge support for small-scale Island distilleries after feds give sanitizer contracts to big firms

Trio calls on feds to financially support distilleries like Shelter Point, Wayward and Ampersand

Vancouver Island MPs and mayors have come out in support of local distilleries on the Island that pivoted to producing hand sanitizer during the pandemic.

Three NDP MPs have called on the federal government to acknowledge the invaluable contribution made by small-business distilleries with more financial support, after reports of the federal government awarding paid-contracts to large, out-of-province companies emerged.

In a statement, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns and Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor listed out distilleries in their ridings that produced “tens of thousands of litres of hand sanitizer during the first wave of the pandemic despite having to close their doors to the public and losing their source of income.”

They pointed to the works of Shelter Point Distillery in Oyster River, Wayward Distillery in Courtenay and Ampersand Distilling and Stillhead Distillery in the Cowichan Valley.

After the pandemic blew up in March, many alcohol distillers in B.C. began producing and supplying hand sanitizer to address supply shortage.

Some, like Shelter Point Distillery suspended distilling operations to switch production capacity to manufacture medical grade sanitizer after medical clinics on the Island informed them of the trouble they faced in procuring the product.

READ MORE: Shelter Point Distillery switches production to sanitizers

According to a report by CBC, the federal government spent close to $570 million dollars on purchasing hand sanitizer from outside the country when distillers in the country were producing it for free.

Eventually when the government signed agreements with Canadian manufacturers, it was the big companies like Fluid Energy Group in Calgary, Hawktree Solutions in Ottawa and Irving Oil in New Brunswick that got the deal.

This move did not sit well with the New Democrats who felt that it was not fair to the smaller producers/businesses.

“After small businesses did this at a financial loss, it’s really a slap in the face that this government then paid huge companies to do the work they’d been doing for free, said MP Johns.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see that the government doesn’t have small businesses’ backs the way that they should,” said MP Blaney.

Criticizing the government’s move, MP MacGregor said that for many local business owners this is just another example of how the Liberals have let them down during the pandemic.

“These businesses stepped up when people in our communities needed help. Instead of making deals with big business, the government should be there to support them now,” said MacGregor.

Some local leaders have also stepped up to support and commend the work of these distilleries and encouraged citizens to continue to support these local entrepreneurs. In a tweet, Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom said “Our federal government may have shut out the smaller players but we can still make a difference for them.”

“I know our municipality & RD purchased from Shelter Point as have I. Be sure to support the local, innovative entrepreneur to thank them for helping us during COVID,” read Wickstrom’s tweet.

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