Business

It’s a cold, cruel world out there, and not just in Sudbury

Peter Brimelow November 14 1977
Business

It’s a cold, cruel world out there, and not just in Sudbury

Peter Brimelow November 14 1977

It’s a cold, cruel world out there, and not just in Sudbury

Business

Peter Brimelow

The gong sounds, the round ends. The combatants and the referee—Inco, the government and unions—glaring, bloody and bitter, retire to their respective corners. It’s been a dramatic fight, but a depressing one from the point of view of Canada’s future. Industry experts are generally speechless at the popular portrayal of Inco as a corporate ogre, chuckling evilly as it has its way with nations and labor unions. “It’s a lot of idiocy,” fumes limar Martens, Swedish-born mining consultant to Toronto brokers Walwyn, Stodgell, Cochran, Murray Limited.

Inco is actually a delicate organism, hopelessly vulnerable to circumstance, forced to cut and perhaps to eliminate its dividend, facing a possible loss next year. The Canadian multinational has already accumulated half the stockpiled nickel in the world, hoping to avoid dispersing its mining teams, and its finances can stand no more. It is locked into its overseas obligations for various contractual reasons. Even the timing of the Canadian layoff an-

nouncement was controlled by securities commission regulations, especially in the United States, where Inco stock is heavily traded (although 52% is now in Canadian hands). Better public relations, under the circumstances, would be like gift-wrapping a bomb. The real problem is that public opinion was poised to collapse on Inco’s head.

This has happened because economics, like death, is a distressing subject, one we prefer to avoid. We are helped by Prime Ministerial fantasies about a nickel cartel embracing producers and consumers, a contradiction in terms revealing an appalling ignorance of world market forces. It is comforting to believe that we can live forever in the same place doing the same job. We therefore employ a priestly caste to tell us so. They are called socialists. A job is to them as sacrosanct as private property was to the Victorians. Their faith is proselytizing to other politicians and rises in fervor regardless of surrounding reality. Unlike the 18th century, no one will starve as a result of the Sudbury layoffs. It is true that all this tends, through cross-subsidization, to discourage miners moving from nickel (which is not needed) to uranium (which is) and therefore ultimately lowers everyone’s standard of living. However, we can regard this as a sort of society-wide hair shirt, which we endure for the sake of virtue. It is all very human. And, for a trading nation such as Canada, about as effective in warding off market forces as the Sioux Ghost Dance was against the bullets of the U.S. cavalry.