By Christine Van Geyn
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is undercutting Ontario manufacturers while attempting to promote free trade, and it couldn’t happen at a worse time.
While in Washington DC to promote free trade on September 14, the Premier spoke about Ontario companies that do businesses in the United States, and the benefits these businesses provide to the American and state economies.
Wynne cited the Leland Industries as an example of the success of NAFTA noting the company is investing $46 million into Illinois.
The problem is … it isn’t true.
Leland founder and CEO, Byron Nelson, said he was, “… astonished she would mention our name,” and that for Wynne to say Leland has invested $46 million in Illinois is, “… completely false.”
“We haven’t invested $46 million, or even 46 cents. I don’t know where Wynne is getting her figures, or who gave her authority to talk about what our company is doing financially, but this isn’t helping,” said Nelson.
Leland is a family-owned business that manufactures bolts, nuts, and screws, and uses North American steel and labour to do so. Nelson stated last year the company is looking to expand in Illinois, but not because of NAFTA. While Nelson says NAFTA does help their business, the reason they are looking to expand into Illinois is because Wynne has made Ontario unaffordable, and the company, “… can no longer compete with the escalating energy costs we are seeing here in Ontario.”
If Wynne is going to act like she is a champion of free trade and Ontario’s manufacturing sector, she should start with listening to businesses and understanding the difference between free trade and a business exodus. This needs to happen quickly.
With current NAFTA renegotiation talks in Ottawa, the Trump administration’s intentions are clear. Trump has said NAFTA has been a “catastrophe,” and New York has reached an agreement on Buy American legislation which requires the purchase of American-made steel and iron products for state construction.
Since 2005, manufacturing jobs are down 30 per cent in Ontario, with total job losses of 318,000. Over the past 10 years, Ontario has seen the slowest income growth in Canada, trailing the national average of 10.8 per cent growth with a meagre 3.8 per cent growth rate.
This stagnation is largely attributed to the gutting of the manufacturing sector.
In such an environment, Canadian businesses need political leaders who can give a staunch, principled, and coherent defence of free trade. Canadian businesses need political leaders who listen to their concerns about what can make Ontario a competitive jurisdiction within Canada, within North America, and globally.
By citing Leland in her speech in Washington, it’s painfully obvious that Wynne isn’t listening.
Leland is a member of an organization called the Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers and Businesses of Ontario. The organization has met with the provincial government to discuss concerns about electricity costs, cap and trade and, most recently, the planned dramatic hike in minimum wage. With the recent tax changes being proposed by the Trudeau government, small and medium sized businesses are even more concerned.
So far, it’s been radio silence from the government.
If Wynne is going to defend free trade and stand up for Ontario businesses and manufacturers, she’s going to have to start listening to them first.
Christine Van Geyn is the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canada’s leading non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste, and accountable government.
This article was previously published in the Toronto Sun.