Dennis Darby: Manufacturing Matters. Made in Canada Manufacturing Matters.

The Canadian Business Resilience Network (CBRN) brings together a vast network of over 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade and more than 100 of Canada’s leading business and industry associations, from all regions and sectors of the economy. This network represents diverse viewpoints, and the CBRN blog provides a platform to share ideas with other members of the business community and the federal government. The opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of CBRN or the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

This piece is written by Dennis Darby, the President and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.

As the COVID-19 crisis took hold of Canada, manufacturers stepped up to respond to the urgent need for personal protective equipment, ventilators and testing kits. Big companies like Ford and Bombardier, as well as SMEs like Stanfields and Polyunity, are leveraging existing and new supply chains.

Unfortunately, until just a few weeks ago, few recognized the importance of a strong manufacturing sector. Most Canadians thought of it as a relic for the past now best handled by other countries like China or Mexico as we moved towards “the economy of the future”, focused on services.

These sentiments became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because few people were paying attention, the sector has grown weaker smothered by a higher cost of doing business, an unmanageable regulatory burden, and a lack of reciprocal access to international markets. As a result, investment and productivity levels are in the bottom 5 of the 36 nation OECD and, Canada’s share of international trade has been cut to the lowest levels of record.

Yet, as other countries began closing their borders and access to life-saving goods became restricted, Canadians are asking themselves how we ended up in a situation where we are unable to manufacture the goods we need. We must act now to make sure we are never in this situation again.

As governments across the country now realize how important the sector is for the prosperity and well-being of the country, deeming many operations essential. While the supports to the sector over the last few weeks are crucial, these short-term actions do not fix decades of uncompetitive policies.

To make Made in Canada a reality, the government must fully implement a national strategy to boldly drive an innovative, growing, and globally competitive Canadian economy and manufacturing sector by focusing on three main priorities for growth:

  1. Reduce the cost of doing business and drive investment by lowering the tax burden, creating a regulatory environment that encourages innovation and decreasing duplication and waste; lower energy costs, and reform investment support programs, including research and development.
  2. Leverage Canada’s natural advantages and focus attention on the greatest opportunities for growth, including natural resource development and value-added, Made-in-Canada strategy to encourage business growth, and trade and supply chain development within North America.
  3. Significantly increasing the talent pool and available skills, specifically in trades, through a nationally coordinated strategy to develop STEM skills in Canada’s youth, by encouraging increased participation in technical education through Canada’s diverse population, and encouraging immigration that matches the short-term needs of employers.

Finally, while, we will undoubtedly see some calls for protectionist measures here and, amongst our partners, it is not the right option for Canada. Rather, we should be focusing on developing the right business environment that will allow Canadian manufacturers to grow our share of global markets.  

Canada has a long history of manufacturing innovations. Items we use every day like garbage bags, smart phones, and screwdrivers were invented here. We can have a bright future, with Canadian manufacturers leading the next generation of innovative life-saving technologies, or personal electronics, or household goods. It is time once again for Made-in-Canada to matter.

– Dennis Darby