With a little under a week to the redux of the O.K. Coral-like showdown on Parliament Hill, this time over the full budget, Liberal Industry critic Gerard Kennedy kicked off a multi-city, fact-finding tour in Guelph. During a full day of activities, Kennedy heard from local industry leaders and social service groups as to how the global recession is affecting the Royal City and how the Federal government can help ease the pain in the wallet. With our local MP Frank Valeriote as his guide, Kennedy got the rather bleak news from a group of people that should know how healthy our local economy really is.
Members of the local media were invited to join the Dynamic Duo on a couple of their appointments. First was a tour of the production floor of Guelph Tool’s Lewis Rd. plant. And incidentally, if you want to literally feel the hurt on by the auto sector, visit a parts plant first thing in the morning and marvel at how half the lights in the place are switched off and how only one out of the eight available machines is working. In Canada, our manufacturing sector is 70 per cent dependent on the auto sector, and that includes both cars and car parts.
As for the numbers, this plant we were walking through is only at a quarter of its capacity. At its peak, Guelph Tool ran 120 people out of this factory. They cranked out various products made with the metal press like some 25 million head rest frames a year. Throughout the day, anywhere from 15 to 20 trucks carried those parts, and others like them, to production lines across Ontario and into Michigan. Guelph Tool President Rob Ireland says that the Lewis Rd. plant is operating with a crew of 30 workers, cranking out fewer orders out of a single metal press crunching away on the factory floor.
After walking the factory floor, Kennedy and Valeriote sat down with Ireland to strategize; how could the government help the ailing manufacturing sector? Ireland suggested that loosening delays at the border would help a great deal, as would investments in education and retraining, and just generally getting assistance to make them more competitive in the new economy. Of course, the funding for these types of initiatives would be accompanied by some kind of budget deficit, which Kennedy accepts. He added though that any “bailout” should be subject to public scrutiny. “I think that what we need in this country is to see that the conditions are made public,” he said. "We want the same jobs in Canada, we want to make sure that the government takes the right action, but it’s got to be connected directly to how people are impacted, especially in communities like Guelph.”
He want to say that the Canadian government is going to have to look after its own, regardless of the directions the new US administration intends on heading in. “The American Congress will not look after our interests,” said Kennedy both at Guelph Tool and later to a group gathered at the Guelph-Wellington Business Enterprise Centre. “So we’re putting the pressure out there now because we’d love to see that stuff tabled. We’d like to see an objective, independent analysis to see that the taxpayers are protected and that we’re getting a good outcome as well in terms of the jobs in this country. So far, the government’s refused to release that information to the independent budget officer in Parliament.”
At the GWBEC, Kennedy and Valeriote met with numerous community groups and labour advocates that offered their perspective on how the recession is affecting the people they represent. Without getting too deep into the statistics let’s just say that the picture isn’t so rosy; poverty rates are going up, social services are being tapped beyond limit, and any ideas put forth to get people working again require an influx of capital. Kennedy said that a lot of what was being discussed at the table was on the mind of opposition parties as they discussed coalition last fall, but prudently, they were waiting until January 27th to see what they’re going to be working with.
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