Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cape Breton—Canso.
The citizens of London, Ontario, are hurting this week in the wake of Caterpillar shuttering the Electro-Motive Diesel plant, throwing 450 out of work in an economy where we found out at the same time that unemployment is up over last month to 7.6%, now approaching American levels of unemployment. This is a major blow to London and southwestern Ontario, an area of the country particularly reliant on the manufacturing sector and one that was particularly hard hit by the economic downturn, losing 250,000 good paying, full-time jobs during the course of the recession.
Workers at EMD started the new year to the news that they were locked out of their jobs. Caterpillar drew their line in the sand at a savage 50% cut in salary and benefit reduction. They shut the doors to the plant, locking out 450 workers and not a peep was heard from the Conservative government. The Prime Minister was willing to use it as a backdrop for an election announcement, but it would seem that, as soon as he pulled out of that station, he was more than willing to leave the London workers tied to the tracks.
When the employees at the factory needed help, he was nowhere to be seen, nor were his members or ministers. It is not that the company was losing money. Days before, it had posted record profits in the United States. Yes, it is true that EMD was not a Canadian company. Over the years, it changed hands and was an American company bought by an American company. While we may not have lost a Canadian company, we certainly lost Canadian jobs, contributing further to the declining manufacturing job numbers, which are down 2.5% from January 2011.
Commentators, like Postmedia columnist, Andrew Coyne, have argued that $16.50 an hour may not be $34 an hour but that it sure beats zero. On the face of that argument, he is correct and I imagine that he is not alone in that opinion. However, it is an argument that only someone who is gainfully employed can make. It is a truly difficult task for him or I for that matter to put ourselves in the shoes of the welder or assembler who works for a living, makes a budget in order to pay the mortgage on a home, makes car payments, buys groceries, pays for braces, soccer and university tuition, and maybe at the end of a paycheque can save a buck or two for a pension. That, coincidentally, the Conservative government is set to claw back.
Most Canadians do not need to wonder from day to day whether they will receive their full salaries. They can bank on it, make priorities and live their lives.
These are events that traumatize families and their children and the communities in which they live, and we must stop looking at them like statistics. We either decide to do nothing about them and hope to manage the rise and fall of what some dismiss as a few percentage points here and there, like the current government, treating families out of work like numbers to be moved around on a board, or we draft meaningful legislation and regulations to ensure that investment in Canada by foreign companies is sustainable and truly in the net best interests of Canadians.
Caterpillar went into the negotiations without any intention of conceding more than the severe cuts it was offering. It is very hard to believe that when it locked employees out of the plan on January 1, it was willing to ever open up those doors again, except to crate up the machinery and ship it south, despite assurances to the union that the company was not looking to move its jobs south. As soon as it was sure there would be no concerns of union resistance in Indiana, London was closed and it was gone.
In a January 17 editorial in Indiana's Muncie Star Press, the paper wrote, “London’s loss could be our gain, but we’ll take the jobs”. In fact, over the past few days and heading into the coming weeks, Progress Rail is holding job fairs in and around the Muncie area in order to replace the London jobs in its new factory. The Conservative government had three weeks after this editorial to do something, anything, to keep the jobs in Canada but it sat on its hands and watched the company walk out the door.
The Prime Minister claims, and his members parrot, that the Conservatives' number one priority is the economy, but with the closure of EMD and Papiers White Birch, I cannot help wonder whose economy. The Conservatives talk about the other parties being bad for job creation but they cannot back it up with anything except evidence that jobs are driving into Canada and then driving right back out, leaving communities in shambles.
If this were a new happening, we might be surprised, but the government watched as Stelco and Alcan wound down after a foreign purchase and stood idly by as Vale Inco laid off workers in Sudbury.
Members opposite might yet stand and argue that they stopped the sale of the potash corporation, but I feel it necessary to remind them that it was only after such a vocal backlash from the residents, the premier of Saskatchewan and Canadians across this country.
It was said at that time, and it is true now, that the Investment Canada Act, as it currently stands, does not give Canadians the confidence that their best interests will be served. It needs to be re-examined and modified so that there is a reporting requirement on the government rationale for approval or disapproval of a sale, as well as for the public disclosure of the commitments made by the purchasing company, be it jobs or investments. This public disclosure is necessary for accountability and enforcement of these measures to the benefit of the community where the purchase is taking place. This also works so that we know what concessions we have made on our resources.
We can take Sinopec and its investment in Syncrude, which gives them the ability to restrict the refining and processing of crude oil in Canada. A clause in its own contract allows a company owned by a foreign government to take jobs away from Canadians on a whim.
We are selling ourselves out because the government is not investing in our own jobs and it is standing back while other countries do it for it. Canadians want their country back. If the government wants to stand behind its mantra of hundreds of thousands of jobs created since the recession, Canadians must be reminded that these are part-time jobs, low wage full-time jobs or contract jobs. The members opposite should be reminded that they are more than welcome to try working and raising a family on that type of income. Otherwise, they will have to come to terms sooner rather than later with the fact that underemployment is unsustainable, as is their particularly laissez-faire approach to foreign investment and lack of real strategy on innovation.
Where is the government's strategy on foreign investment in Canada? Will it draw the line at all between investment and outright domination and expropriation?
Canada welcomes foreign investment but, presently, at what cost? We are walking into an unhealthy reliance on a branch plant economy, leaving us, especially southwestern Ontario, vulnerable to openings and closings.
The government is not standing up for jobs in Canada. Pilots in my riding have called and written to me to say that they and other airline employees, like the postal workers before them, are stuck between a rock and a hard place as they are being forced to take whatever deal is offered, facing the likelihood that they will only get a worse deal if the issue winds up in this House.
The Conservative government is not standing up for workers. By consistently ignoring opportunities to invest in green jobs and green technology, it is not just jobs right now that the Conservatives are falling behind on but jobs of the future .
A year and a half ago, I attended the opening of Canadian Solar Inc., an internationally recognized leader in the production of solar modules at its plant in Guelph, Ontario. Representatives from the City of Guelph and the Province of Ontario, who had invested in the program, were there and yet the Conservatives were nowhere to be found.
The business expenditure on research and development is but 1% of GDP, having dropped by almost half of what it was before the election of the Conservative administration, while the average business investment in research and development in the 34 OECD countries is 1.6%.
Concern has been expressed to me, not only by manufacturers but by those in the agricultural industry, that the government is only paying lip service to the challenges facing research, development and innovation. Band-aid and one-off solutions instead of a coherent plan to reach OECD levels do not provide the incentives we need to grow and develop companies here in Canada and to keep companies here in Canada, causing us to lag behind our competitors and leaving many forced to work the jobs that whistle-stop into Canada and disappear almost as soon.
I want my children to grow up and have the opportunity to work in Guelph. They should not be forced to trek west to work in the oil patch or to go south like so many researchers, nor should they be forced to work a job they are overqualified for in order to make ends meet. I do not want them to watch as factory doors close because the parent company from another country can get the labour cheaper somewhere else and likely union free.
Our economy is bleeding and the Conservative government is barely applying pressure to the wound. If it does not act soon, we will no doubt see more Electro-Motive Diesels walk out of our country, leaving nothing in their wake.