Talk of the Town Commentary .. March 19, 2012
I was visiting in Winnipeg on the weekend. Like much of the prairies, the weather continued to be unbelievable – more like May than March. But it was an ugly heartbreaking Sunday for more than 300 people who thought they had secure jobs in the city’s aerospace industry. A company called Aveos, which repairs and maintains a number of planes in the Air Canada fleet, closed its doors in Winnipeg and elsewhere with almost zero advance warning. In total, more than three thousand jobs were wiped out across Canada. Aveos was created in 2007 when Air Canada consolidated its maintenance and repair division into a stand alone operation. When the former crown-owned airline was privatized twenty years ago, the government of Brian Mulroney secured commitments from the new private owners that these valuable skilled jobs would be maintained in this country. Winnipeg was one of several centres who breathed a sigh of relief at the time. The airline was born in Manitoba capital before World War Two, but over the decades the city has struggled to maintain a healthy aerospace industry. Located smack dab in the middle of North America, it would seem to be a ‘no brainer’ that Winnipeg should be an aerospace hub. But working against that have been the wonderful forces of globalization. Never mind that a ‘centre of excellence’ has been carefully nurtured in this vital sector. We live in a world that is frequently reduced to a ‘race to the bottom’. If it can be done cheaper somewhere else, then that’s where the work will go, and there’s no need to be gentle or fair about it. That’s what happened with hundreds of workers at the Caterpiller locomotive plant in southern Ontario a few weeks ago. The employer said “Sign a contract that pays you half what you were making before, or watch those jobs disappear to the U.S.” That’s exactly what happened, and the politicians were powerless to do anything about it. The rumours about what Air Canada will now do are all over the map. There are suggestions that the work will initially go to non-union plants in the U.S., but before too long the work will move to Mexico. One can imagine similar concerns in Saskatchewan as the forces of the global economy determine the future of Viterra. It makes you wonder where it will end, and who will get to turn out the lights.