Priming the pump

There’s long been a debate about public incentives for private sector projects. Otherwise profitable companies come to governments, cap in hand, demanding funds or they’ll build a new plant in some other more favourable jurisdiction. 

Automotive is a prime example. In 1978, Ford President Roy Bennett tracked down Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who were both attending the Calgary Stampede. Bennett convinced them to invest $68 million in an engine plant in Windsor, Ont., that might have gone to Ohio instead. In 1986, Toyota got $50 million from Ontario Premier David Peterson for a new assembly plant in Cambridge, Ont. Both deals yielded high-paying jobs, spinoff employment, and income taxes paid. 

In recent years, the amount of money involved has skyrocketed. Ontario has just struck a two-year deal with Open Text Corp. – $120 million in return for 1,200 jobs and an expenditure of $2 billion on staff and facilities. Last year Ontario doled out $190 million to Cisco Systems Inc. to create 1,700 jobs and a promise to do more research and development in Canada.

Those who are against capitalists getting handouts should have been with me recently. I was on the second floor of the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street doing research on my current project. After a while I realized that numerous young people had been walking by and disappearing down a hallway. They were not there to do research. They were looking for work at a job fair. These were not disadvantaged kids. Instead, they looked like recent community college grads and all were dressed in their best outfits. I didn’t do an exact count, but there might have been 150 of them. I don’t know all of the retailers who were recruiting, but a couple of their representatives went by carrying signs for their booths so I do know corporate attendees included Dollarama and Danier Leather. 

Imagine, our best and brightest battling for minimum wage jobs on the floor at a Dollarama. Now, maybe they’d work their way up to manager some day, but is this what we want for our young people? The ones we’ve helped put through post-secondary schools with our tax dollars? I don’t think so. Surely we want them to have access to the kind of brain-enriching high-tech roles promised by Cisco and Open Text. A better tomorrow demands nothing less.  

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