Our Economy – Vision, Not Division

In previous columns I have commented on the economy in Durham and the diversity of our economy. This diversity is part of our strength because we don’t rely on a single industry or resource as some parts of the country do. If one area of the economy is slowing or having challenges, we hope that other parts of the economy step up to fill the void by providing employment and economic activity in the region. We have a tremendous heritage in agriculture and its role in the economy of Durham is as strong and important as ever. We have an equally important history in manufacturing and its role remains critical to our economy as well. The construction of the Darlington Generating Station also led our region to be an important part of Ontario’s energy needs. Small businesses in both the service economy and in other industries are also critical to our success given our area has access to the largest market in Canada. Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology are also world class institutions that tie together our industries and give our young people the opportunity for training and education that will allow them to work in our region.

Just as the diversity of the Durham economy is a huge strength, the diversity of the Canadian economy is equally a strength. The Canadian economy is one of the largest in the world because of this diversity. Some suggest that we rely only on the oil and gas sector, but in actual fact this is only about 8% of the economy. Canada has long been a leader in resources from forestry and minerals to oil and gas development. We are also increasingly performing value-added work on these materials and resources. Our tech sector is equally as impressive and important. From early trailblazers like Nortel, Blackberry and Open Text to exciting new companies like Hootsuite, Shopify and BuildDirect, Canada continues to innovate and create jobs and intellectual property. Healthcare and education are critical services delivered to Canadians, but Canadian innovation and leadership also lead these sectors to sell services and goods around the world. Our agricultural sectors, especially the beef, pork and grain and oil seeds sectors will continue to grow given new markets opened up by the Harper government in Europe and Asia, where our goods are in high demand. From financial services to fisheries, no sector of the Canadian economy dominates and all are very important to our success as a country.

I raise the subject of the diversity of our economy because I have some concerns about Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent comments he made at the Davos meetings in Europe. In his speech he made light of the role of the resource economy in Canada. These comments echo the tone of previous remarks he made when he suggested that Ontario should transition away from manufacturing industries. Pitting one industry against another, or suggesting to Canadians that the resource or manufacturing economies are less important than other sectors is divisive. Some of our upstart technology companies are definitely exciting because of new technology or innovation, but we should be equally excited by the jobs and opportunity created by resource, agriculture, manufacturing and other sectors.

When the auto manufacturing slowed in Ontario a few years ago, manufacturing contracts from resource industries out west helped make up for some of the lost opportunity. People are often surprised when I tell them that in recent years there were as many manufacturing jobs in Ontario attributable to the resource economy as there were in the auto assembly industry in Ontario. This shows that the resources in Alberta or Saskatchewan also create jobs here in Ontario and their contribution to our national economy also contributes to our quality of life. Now that the resource sectors have slowed in Western Canada, hopefully our diverse economy can help us through these challenging times. The lower dollar and growing economy in the United States should lead to more manufacturing jobs in Ontario. Hopefully our agriculture sector can grow as a result of new trade opportunities and our IT, services and technology sectors will continue their important contribution to the Canadian economy.

The real problem with picking favorites when it comes to the economy is that it can also result in pitting one part of the country against the other and ultimately Canadians against one another. The economy in urban Canada can be quite different than rural Canada, so comments from our Prime Minister should not further differences between west and east or rural and urban Canadians. Days after the Prime Minister’s comments, the Mayor of Montreal (his former colleague in Parliament) also tried to divide east versus west, rural versus urban, with a surprising attack on a pipeline that is already largely built. With a challenging global economy and with resource prices depressed, we need less division and more unity and vision when it comes to our economy. This is something I will raise repeatedly in Ottawa using Durham as a good example to follow.


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