EDITORIAL

Won't we ever learn to stop selling cheap and buying dear?

Peter C. Newman December 15 1980
EDITORIAL

Won't we ever learn to stop selling cheap and buying dear?

Peter C. Newman December 15 1980

Won't we ever learn to stop selling cheap and buying dear?

EDITORIAL

Peter C. Newman

It was Abraham Gesner, an obscure Halifax scientist who spent his life devising new methods of producing kerosene, who first connected Canadians with a biblical epithet as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” That was back in 1846, and hardly anyone has ever bothered to recall the context in which that harsh judgment was rendered.

What Gesner was so lyrically concerned about was that by exporting raw resources, Canadian economic activity served merely “to enrich an old commonwealth, whose people by their skill and labor make such raw materials valuable.”

More than a century later, Gesner’s evocative verdict remains sadly relevant. Manufacturing—that sector of the economy that potentially provides the largest number of jobs per investment dollar—is in an accelerating state of decline. Last year we brought in $17 billion more in finished goods than we sent out. Other countries gained the benefits of the employment created by the processing of our resources.

Herb Gray, the federal minister of industry, trade and commerce, is dead right when he warns that without massive increases in spending, Canada runs the risk of remaining “at the fringes of high-growth industrial activity.” Ironically, the potential has never been greater. A recent report by the Canadian Institute for Economic Policy estimates that in one field alone—supplying equipment for energy-related investments between now and 1990—new markets worth $67 billion will open up for Canadian manufacturing. Similar opportunities exist in many related fields.

As the special report that begins on page 38 illustrates, this is not a problem that will be resolved by Ottawa simply throwing money at faltering factories. Instead, the federal panjandrums who govern our collective destinies should get their noses out of the constitutional textbooks long enough to formulate a decent industrial strategy for this country. That requires the political will to eliminate those industries that hold no promise of remaining competitive in world markets, while at the same time massively supporting the kind of high-tech factories that create skilled jobs. The policy should also include tax allowances for research, incentives to encourage much greater Canadianization of the manufacturing sector and such tricky but necessary tinkering as regional monetary policies, selective protectionism and some basic state planning that will determine our economic future. As Professor Abraham Rotstein, one of the leading advocates of a sensible industrial strategy, wrote recently: “Much will have to change in Canada, if the country is to stay the same.”