Loss of manufacturing sector more than just numbers
By Lance Crossley
The latest job figures are not good. According to Statistics Canada, the country lost 129,000 jobs in January, which is worse than any monthly decline in the previous two recessions. Almost all the positions were full-time. Ontario was hit especially hard due to losses in the manufacturing sector, where 36,000 manufacturing positions evaporated into thin air. Unemployment rates are shooting up, with blue collar towns like Windsor already showing double digit unemployment figures.
Behind the numbers are a lot of devastated families. Some will be further distressed when they find out they don’t qualify for the Employment Insurance they have paid into all these years. But there is a broader and even more worrying trend, and that is the decline of our economic might.
Historically, Canada had to work hard to become more than just a natural resource based economy. It took sound public policy planning to create a diversified economy that wasn’t solely dependent on unprocessed resources. That is why by the mid-1990s Canada had become a heavyweight in the global manufacturing market. This helped make the country self-sufficient.
In the words of Jim Stanford, economist for the Canadian Auto Workers union, “For the first time in our history, we exported as much as we imported, and then some. For a country which traditionally relied on the export of natural resources to pay for imports of value-added merchandise, this was a tremendous achievement.”
But that economic high point was short lived. Since then our production exports have gone way down, and our reliance on resource exports – like Alberta oil – has risen dramatically. The problem with resource exports is that they are finite. A diversified, “value-added” economy with a strong manufacturing sector is more sustainable and better for our long-term economic security. For those who coldly suggest that laid-off manufacturing workers in Ontario can simply pack up and go work in the Alberta oils sand, think again. Forget about the complications of uprooting ones entire family to move out west, or the fact that oil sands projects are also being hit by the global recession. According to Stanford, there has only been one new job created in the mining and energy sector for every 4.5 jobs lost in the manufacturing sector between 2002-2008. And that was when the oil sands were booming.
I hate to say it, but the manufacturing sector in this province is done. It’s been dying for years. We need to build a new economy to replace the one we are losing. Even if we succeed in reinventing ourselves, it is going to take a long, long time to reap the benefits. In the meantime, better hold on tight.