DENNIS DARBY, Special to Postmedia
As the COVID-19 crisis took hold of Canada, manufacturers stepped up to respond to the urgent need for personal protective equipment, ventilators and testing kits. Big companies such as Ford and Bombardier, and SMEs like Stanfields and Polyunity, are leveraging existing and new supply chains.
Unfortunately, until just a few weeks ago, few recognized the importance of a strong manufacturing sector. Most Canadians thought of it as a relic of the past, now best handled by other countries such as China or Mexico as we moved towards “the economy of the future”, focused on services.
These sentiments became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because no one was paying attention, the sector has grown weaker, smothered by a higher cost of doing business, an unmanageable regulatory burden, and the complete opening of our market without protections or reciprocal access. As a result, investment and productivity levels are in the bottom five of the 36-nation OECD and Canada’s share of international trade has been cut to the lowest levels of record.
Yet, as other countries began closing their borders and access to life-saving goods became restricted, Canadians are asking themselves how we ended up in a situation where we are unable to manufacture the goods we need. We must act now to make sure we are never in this situation again.
As governments across the country now realize how important the sector is for the prosperity and well-being of the country, deeming most operations essential. While the supports to the sector over the past few weeks are crucial, these short-term actions do not fix decades of inattention.
To make ‘Made in Canada’ a reality, the government must fully implement a national industrial strategy to boldly drive an innovative, growing, and globally competitive Canadian manufacturing sector by focusing on three main priorities for growth:
1. Reduce the cost of doing business and drive investment by lowering the tax burden, creating a regulatory environment that encourages innovation and decreasing duplication and waste; lower energy costs, and reform investment support programs, including research and development.
2. Leverage Canada’s natural advantages and focus attention on the greatest opportunities for growth, including natural resource development and value-added, a Made-in-Canada government procurement strategy to encourage business growth, and trade and supply chain development within North America.
3. Significantly increasing the talent pool and available skills, specifically in trades, through a nationally coordinated strategy to develop STEM skills in Canada’s youth, by encouraging increased participation in technical education through Canada’s diverse population, and encouraging immigration that match the short-term needs of employers.
Finally, while, we undoubtedly will see some calls for protectionist measures here but, amongst our partners, it is not the right option for Canada. Rather, we should be focusing on developing a business environment that will allow Canadian manufacturers to grow our share of global markets.
Canada has a long history of manufacturing innovations. Items we use every day such as garbage bags, smart phones, screwdrivers were invented here. We can have a bright future, with Canadian manufacturers leading the next generation of innovative life-saving technologies, or personal electronics, or household goods. We need a strategic framework, with targeted growth objectives. It is time once again for ‘Made in Canada’ to matter.
Dennis Darby is the President & CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters