Canadian Plastics

When the going gets tough, the politicians do nothing

In 2006, our magazine got into trouble with a few of our readers over an editorial criticizing the Harper government's policy as it related to Canada's plastics industry.

November 1, 2008   By Umair Abdul, Assistant Editor

In 2006, our magazine got into trouble with a few of our readers over an editorial criticizing the Harper government’s policy as it related to Canada’s plastics industry.

Sadly — and at the risk of causing further offence — I’m forced to reaffirm that sentiment after watching this year’s federal election, with one important distinction: none of Canada’s federal parties are putting forward policies that adequately address the problems facing our industry.

As soon as the election was called, the Canadian Plastics editorial staff engaged industry leaders and companies in a conversation about what a change in government would mean for this sector. The election was even the topic of discussion for the September 15 episode of CanPlastics TV.

Although it was painfully evident that this election was mostly about politicking — the parties seemed to be more interested in being the first past the post than listening to their constituencies — the vote seemed to be a way for our industry to send a clear message to Ottawa. In Ontario, the province that has arguably borne the brunt of the manufacturing crisis, Premier Dalton McGuinty called on voters to pick the party with the best vision for the sector.


But here’s the problem: none of the federal parties have a measured, comprehensive strategy to deal with the problems facing this sector. And it’s not for a lack of trying on our part.

Though the Conservative minority government has delivered in areas like tax breaks, such as the accelerated capital cost allowance (ACCA) on machinery and equipment, industry leaders have generally agreed that the government hasn’t done enough for the ailing sector.

The Conservatives have preferred to take a “hands off” approach towards manufacturing. The Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA) has twice now sought millions of dollars in funds from the federal government to help its members stay solvent, to no avail.

For their part, opposition parties seemed to sit silently by during the last government’s tenure until the Conservatives signaled an election. When manufacturing did come up in the latest federal campaign, the entire manufacturing sector was reduced to a single issue. Never mind that the sector is made up of a diverse set of industries, and each one is dealing with a different set of circumstances.

On the federal political scene, the decline in manufacturing is measured by job losses in the sector. And though the job losses in the sector are an important consideration, our federal politicians seem far less concerned about the loss of vibrant businesses and homegrown innovation.

Leaders castigated their opponents for not doing enough, and vowed to do more for manufacturing, but no one demonstrated how they would go about it. They were happy to show up outside a factory for a stump speech or a photo opportunity, but delivered nothing substantive in terms of policy.

I am perhaps most disappointed with New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton. While Liberal leader Stephane Dion squandered the majority of his campaign on policies that were met with voter skepticism, Layton used the last days of his campaign to travel through Ontario communities that have been left devastated by declines in manufacturing.

Finally, I thought, a politician who is willing to take the government to task for their passivity. But on closer inspection, his views — to reconsider fair trade deals and deliver policy from the “kitchen table” — seemed to be overly idealistic and out of touch with the crisis at hand. At a time when manufacturing is going through seismic shifts, populist rhetoric isn’t going to cut it.

That’s the overall impression I got from the federal election campaign past: there’s a whole lot of hand wringing and finger pointing, but no steady hand.

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