During this global pandemic we’ve seen some pretty stark changes and experienced things that we thought we might never experience. We’ve seen some things that were talked about in great theory all of a sudden be thrust into action on a moments notice, giving us experiences that make it very unlikely that they will return to the normal we used to know. It’s all been something to behold and it’s not done yet.
Five years ago my wife, daughter and I moved out of Ottawa and bought a home in the small city of Brockville. Brockville is where my wife grew up, where my in-laws live and where we could buy a nice home at a reasonable price while I was close enough to Ottawa to commute to work. In many ways Brockville reminds me of Kenora, where I grew up. It’s about the same population size and over the past 20 years it’s faced big problems, like many other smaller communities have faced.
Like in Kenora, Brockville has seen good jobs steadily leaving town while people have followed them out of town. In Kenora those jobs were mostly in the forestry sector while in Brockville they were in manufacturing. Going around Brockville you can see that manufacturing history marking the community. You can see where Phillips Cables used to be in the west end, where Black & Decker used to be and many others. It was just a short while ago that one of the largest remaining manufacturers in Brockville, Proctor & Gamble, announced that they were leaving too by early 2021. With that, another major employer was leaving, adding to the long list of major employers who have done the same across the country.
In the past 30 years we’ve become used to seeing a steady steam of these business and the good jobs they provide going offshore, mostly to new homes across Asia and Mexico. It’s been part of the legacy of free trade deals that Canada has signed and as much as these moves have hurt smaller communities like Kenora and Brockville, it looked like something that wasn’t going to change. It was the price that was paid to bring in cheaper, more affordable goods into the country and it seemed that the public had spoken with their votes but supporting those parties who have been most vocal supporters of those policies.
Yet COVID-19 has managed to shine a bright spotlight on the off shoring of most of our manufacturing capacities and the problems that it can create in an emergency. It’s forced governments and voters to re-evaluate these approaches and has seriously tested the theories around them. The question that remained open was if this experience would push a change in direction, like it has in other areas of society? Well today a rare event will be taking place in Brockville that might be shining some light on where this all might be leading, and its great news for the small city by the St. Lawrence that I now call home:
It’s not very often you get a Liberal Prime Minister and a Conservative Premier together at the same time for any announcement. It’s even rarer that such an announcement would be taking place in little old Brockville. Yet today we’re seeing Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford coming here to visit 3M’s Brockville facility for a big announcement about increasing mask manufacturing in Canada.
We’ve heard both leaders make statements since the pandemic started about the need to ensure that we can produce these important materials here at home, after we have learned painfully difficult lessons around having to fight our neighbours in the US just to get the masks and PPE that we have paid for. We’ve seen stories about us being dependent on other nations for the manufacturing of such important materials, something that has unnerved many, especially when that dependence exposed us to the serious problems that brings.
But there is a big step from making statements to actually taking action, especially one that runs so counter to the orthodoxy that has ruled these things for so long. Like in other parts of society, this is where the rubber was going to hit the road when it came to how COVID has changed our approaches. We’ve theorized about how this moment would likely lead bringing more manufacturing back home, but today this is one of the first concrete examples of that happen, with financial backing by Canada and Ontario to boot.
This is good news not only for Brockville, but really for Canada as a whole if this is the start of a sea change brought about by these circumstances. When P&G said they were leaving Brockville, most people wouldn’t have expected to see another manufacturer increase production here. That’s just not how things were happening, in fact it was quite the opposite. Yet like with so many other things that we’ve seen in 2020, today’s news is the kind of thing that was unthinkable just a year ago. So today I’m happy to see Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Ford come to Brockville and I hope that this is the first of many such stories you hear from across the country. We’ll see if that actually happens but today, I’m much more hopeful that could happen than I have in a long time.