Monday’s announcement of General Motors’ closure of its Oshawa assembly plant, and the loss of nearly 3,000 jobs to that region, is a story all too familiar to residents of Eastern Ontario especially here in South Dundas. Over the past three decades, we have seen a systematic shift in heavy manufacturing with entire industries closing resulting in large-scale job losses: Caldwell Linens, Domtar, Canada Cotton Mills, C-I-L are just a few in this region. Thousands of jobs were lost.
There are a number of reasons. Trade deals like the original Free Trade Agreement. The North American Free Trade Agreement. A cheap overseas labour force. (Labour in First World countries is the single largest expense for an employer.) But the biggest cause of change is technology. Innovation in manufacturing means that instead of 10,000 people assembling a single car model in a plant, 1,000 people maintain the 2,000 precision robots that can assemble five different car models at once.
What is the solution then? One solution is to quit living in the past. The large-scale employment that factories once guaranteed is gone. Such mass factory employment will not return. Hoping that a policy change here or a trade pact there will bring jobs back is pointless.
What can be done? One approach is becoming more agile and diversifying our modern industry. What does that look like in Eastern Ontario and South Dundas specifically? We need to concentrate on areas of logistics, technology research and development, agriculture, and the service economy. We have those businesses already, but we can do more.
Some of our neighbours are already getting this right. The Cornwall Innovation Centre has already helped to incubate business startups that plan on earning $1-million per year by their third year of business. And that centre’s agri-business program is nearly full with more than 50 per cent of those enrolled women. Edwardsburgh-Cardinal did extensive legwork ahead of time in order to be shovel ready. They are now home to the new Giant Tiger distribution centre and the hundreds of logistic jobs it brought to the community.
Let go the anchors of the past. Change or evolve with the times. We can move forward. Let’s get to work.