In the Saturday, May 4th Globe & Mail business section, Barrie McKenna wrote about our lost business champions and asked some good questions of where Canada is going. Given our dependence on foreign trading for our wellbeing, it got me thinking about several seemingly separate but somehow related bits of the commercial/political news of the last 12 months.
GM Oshawa, a plant continuing to build cars that no one will buy in enough quantities to make it viable. It’s clear that GM has lost the race to market cars in North America. While in mid-northern Ohio last summer, not far from the Lordstown plant (also closing) I walked the staff parking lot at lunch. Of the 18 vehicles parked, 14 were non-Detroit iron. A further 2 were pickup trucks (not GM models), and then a Jeep and an aging Dodge minivan; imagine finding this in northern Ohio! Contrast that with Toyota’s success building RAV 4’s in Woodstock, Ontario, and recently announced they will add a Lexus SUV to be built at that plant. OK, maybe we can compete as individuals (led by foreign technology) but our corporate competence is questionable.
SNC Lavalin got it wrong in 2010 in Libya and broke our laws. There has to be a way to apply sufficient corrective action without destroying a globally competitive engineering company. If we’ve drafted our enabling legislation poorly, the politicians should fix it immediately. Economic consequences affecting thousands of Canadian families and a major company’s Canadian supply base should be a matter to consider in the penalties applied. And it should be appropriate for a Canadian Cabinet member, the Minister of Justice to use those considerations in selecting remedies. All of our major Western trading partners have effective legislation in this regard. It should not be lost on us that Siemens (German ownership) who have been both awarded a subway car contract for Toronto recently and named a ‘Best Employer of the Year’ in Canada, were caught bribing a foreign government official 10 years ago and went through arduous legal censoring and rehabilitation but survived to compete again internationally. Canada needs that process too.
Finally, consider the Sidewalk Toronto waterfront project with its seemingly inappropriate handover to Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs of the invaluable knowledge to be derived from this innovative effort. With our acknowledged AI capabilities and the resources in Southern Ontario (K-W, GTA), Canada should be prepared to develop this technology base, both the data collection and its application to urban planning choices. We should not allow a foreign company to think for us when it comes to how surveillance technology will be controlled, to be used to benefit the citizens of densely populated cities. From this acknowledgement will come applications capable of affecting millions of daily urban activities ultimately driving the quality and economics of our lives. Applications and systems that Canadian companies could then market worldwide.
We’ve lost Nortel and Blackberry and are losing portions of Bombardier’s global scale. The decisions that are needed lie at the individual and personal level of all Canadian citizens. Governments have a role however ultimately Canadians have to embrace risk and develop goods and services that can be exported for profit. Then we will be earning our lifestyle and wellbeing.