Our manufacturing industry is spiralling down, but unfortunately too few recognize that it is an indispensible part of our economy. Some “new age” commentators seem to believe that the service sector should be our overriding concern, and that in any event the line between it and manufacturing is not clear.

The dictionary definition of manufacturing, making articles, is disarmingly simple, and that should dispel any confusion on this subject. Too, it must be noted that manufacturing is the primary source of high-paying jobs and all kinds of technological innovation.

The combination of weak demand and the poor business environment, plus structural problems, are compounding the industry’s troubles. In view of the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector over the last few years, it should be abundantly clear that steps should be taken to restore the long-term growth of that vital part of our economy, and also to help those who have lost those jobs.

What can be done? The NDP, among others, advocate a “Made in Canada” policy so that as much as possible of everything we buy should be manufactured here.

It is disgraceful that our defence department ordered some $230-million worth of trucks from a firm in the United States. A plant in Chatham, Ontario could have been adjusted to comply with the army’s specifications.

This columnist repeatedly has called on governments here at every level to purchase items domestically. For instance, MRI equipment currently imported from Europe could be manufactured here. It would boost our technological expertise, and of course, aid our manufacturers.

In addition, our automobile industry has been the beneficiary of untold millions of dollars of grants. We can –  in fact, must – insist the vehicles assembled here have an increasing percentage of Canadian content. There should be a timetable setting out target dates with further assistance contingent on meeting them.

A significant proportion of our manufacturing industry is affected by transportation costs. We must open our rigid arteries serving markets south of the border. Governments have been working on this for years; remedies should be forthcoming now.

In view of the economic crisis, industry and labour must co-operate much more closely to improve productivity. The stage for this exists in the privately funded Research and Productivity Council. The federal government should fund the establishment of productivity councils within companies, thus making them more competitive.

Finally, a tremendous improvement in manufacturing could be accomplished by flexibility in the taxation weapon. For instance, incentives could take the form of double depreciation, special equipment subsidies, backing new research projects, and encouraging the use of new market equipment.

What these steps could mean is that our manufacturing industry could be restored to its rightful place in our economy.


Bruce Whitestone