The Hon. Charlie Angus
For decades, Liberal and Conservative politicians have argued that free trade is the panacea for all our economic ills. That they negotiate our trade deals in backrooms not for themselves, but for all of us.
Most recently Liberals were spinning and waxing on about how their multilateral trade deals were done for Winnipeg mukluk producers and Nova Scotia blueberry pickers. The free-trade ideology has been given a free ride for so long that we don’t even roll our eyes to such ridiculous claims. Even worse, it’s led us to pretend like no one loses out because of these deals.
That’s bunk, of course. Just take a look at our manufacturing base and you can see that these trade deals leave too many Canadians worse off. Last week I visited with workers from the CAMI plant in Ingersoll to see it firsthand.
The CAMI plant has been repeatedly voted the most efficient auto manufacturing plant in all of North America. It is so profitable that GM forces the workers to work six days a week so they can maximize the bottom line.
But running the most efficient plant at a significant profit isn’t good enough, so they are going to ship out production of the Terrain to Mexico, costing 625 people their jobs .
This is the face of Canada’s trade orthodoxy no one wants to talk about: it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how many concessions you give or how profitable the plant, you can be sold out.
And rest assured that if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t going to stand up for jobs at a plant as important to the economy as CAMI, he sure as hell isn’t going to stand up for you if you are working in a contract or temp job someplace else.
While Liberals continue with their failed Bobby McFerrin “Don’t worry be happy” economic mantra, the data paints a different picture. In 2009 the number of Canadians who considered themselves working class or poor was 29 per cent. That number has since jumped to a stunning 44 per cent.
The disintegration of the middle-class dream is happening before our eyes and the Liberals’ only solution has been to keep on with their failed trickle-down economics, giving bigger tax breaks to the upper management types who oversee the bleed-off of stable Canadian employment.
But just pointing to the problem won’t cut it, so what practical steps can we start taking to ensure the federal government plays its role in sharing gains broadly?
First, with Donald Trump putting NAFTA on the negotiation table, we have an enormous opportunity to fight like hell for Canadian workers like those being ripped off by GM’s move to Mexico. So far public discussions have only been about expected concessions from softwood and beef, to auto parts and dairy. This negotiation should be about ways to redress the trade imbalance.
Secondly, let’s talk about a simple job pledge for Canadian investment. GM was given massive concessions and bailouts during the 2008 economic crisis. Now that the good times have returned, it’s not acceptable that they give us the pink slip. What goes for GM would go for Bombardier, Irving or any other company. Any company that expects money and support from the Canadian government must commit to a job pledge — proving that handouts are clearly linked to jobs.
Finally, specific to the auto sector we need to get serious about a proactive industrial strategy. Rather than sitting back and watching it be moved job by job to Mexico, my colleague MP Brian Masse (Windsor West) has spoken for years about the need to have the government working as a positive partner with industry, labour, auto dealers and the communities to strengthen the manufacturing economy.
And this is just a start. Simply put, it is the federal government’s job to work with the corporate sector to share gains broadly and rebuild the Canadian middle class.
The workers at CAMI, like Canadian workers across this country, deserve a government that is willing to have their back. That’s exactly why I am running for leader of the NDP, and that is my pledge.
Charlie Angus is running for the Leadership of the New Democratic Party. http://www.charlieangusndp.ca