My home province of Ontario, Canada, was once an industrial powerhouse and home to thousands of well-paid manufacturing jobs. But we lost at least 300,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 15 years when companies either went bankrupt or left Ontario.
This happened largely because our electricity prices have increased 318 percent since 2002, giving us one of the highest rates in North America. The single most important cause for this staggering rise is, in the name of “stopping climate change,” we shut down all of our inexpensive coal plants, which, in 2002, provided about 25 percent of our electricity.
Really? How about an alternative explanation?
There are about 300,000 fewer people working today in Ontario’s manufacturing sector than 10 years ago. This has been devastating for the people and communities affected. What is behind the decline? And is there anything governments can do to reverse it?Amazingly enough, there is not one mention about closing coal-fired power plants or increasing electricity costs in this assessment. A comparison of electricity costs in major North American cities, published by Hydro Quebec, shows Ontario has electricity costs very much in line with the most of Canada and significantly lower than the listed northern cities in the U.S. So, no, the cost of electricity in Ontario is not out of line with other manufacturing centers.
Ontario’s problem is not unique. Manufacturing jobs have been disappearing in just about every developed economy for the past two decades. The rise of automation in manufacturing plants means that factories today have more robots and fewer workers. In the case of products that still require a lot of workers, jobs have been transferred out of wealthy countries to countries with much lower labour costs.
This development, supported by lower tariff barriers and transportation costs, has contributed to the rise of the Global Value Chain, which can be understood as a more refined, global division of labour based on competitive advantage (see chart below). It means Ontario cannot compete on wages with low-cost jurisdictions in Asia or Latin America – nor do we want to.
The rapid rise of the Canadian dollar compared to the American dollar over the past decade has caused a significant decline in manufacturing exports and thus employment in Ontario. Our most important customers are in the United States. As the Loonie rose higher, so did the cost of our goods. According to the Bank of Canada, the appreciation of the Canadian dollar explains “most of [the] deterioration in competitiveness” of Canadian firms. Many manufacturing firms have shut their doors and even more individuals lost their jobs as a result.
Canadian firms have not invested enough in productivity. When it comes to job training, ICT, research and development, and machinery and equipment, Canadian manufacturers have fallen way behind. That means our firms are about half as productive as our American competitors. The so-called ‘productivity gap’, the difference between output per worker, has widened between Ontario and its North American peers over the past several years.
Addressing climate change did not cost Ontario 300,000 jobs. Tom Harris lied.