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From Hawkesbury to Estevan, documents show towns to be hit hardest by automation

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HAWKESBURY, Ont. — Sitting around a table with fellow Steelworkers, Steve Berniquez starts listing companies that once stood in and around Hawkesbury, a small Ontario town an hour’s drive east of Ottawa.

When he mentions Canadian International Pulp and Paper, everybody nods. Its mill closed in 1982 and that was a bad one, more than 400 jobs gone at once.

“We had how many mills around here where everybody could work? Now we don’t have anything else,” Berniquez says, leaning back in his chair. “They’re not coming back to us.”

If federal calculations are accurate, automation and technological advances could make the local situation worse in the coming years, with Hawkesbury, a town of about 10,000, hit harder than any other city in Ontario.

An internal government presentation from last August listed Hawkesbury as having the largest share of workers at high risk of being affected by automation. The chart in the lengthy presentation to a group of deputy ministers went province by province with the municipalities that were facing the same fate: Bay Roberts, N.L.; Summerside, P.E.I.; New Glasgow, N.S.; Winkler, Man.; Estevan, Sask.; Quesnel, B.C.; and Brooks, Alta.

Also on the list was Lachute, Que., across the Ottawa River from Hawkesbury.

Federal officials expect that rural areas and small towns will feel the biggest negative effects of automation, as well as regions “dependent on high-risk sectors like manufacturing or mining,” while gains from technological advances accrue to large urban centres.

“Less-educated local workforces mean that rural areas and small towns are less likely to seize the economic opportunities presented by new technologies,” reads the August presentation, a copy of which The Canadian Press obtained under the access-to-information law. “Less-diversified local economies mean that rural areas and small towns are less likely to adapt if incumbent sectors and businesses are disrupted.”

The steelworkers who considered the past, present and future of Hawkesbury on a snowy spring day estimated about one-third of manufacturing jobs that disappeared in the town over the past 30 years could be attributed to technological changes.

Among the recent examples was an automated packing machine that replaced two workers in one plant, and a “magic eye” that does quality control instead of a handful of workers. Three years ago, 100 workers lost their jobs when a local warehouse decided to automate work.

Berniquez has seen it. He works in the next-door village of L’Orignal, in the melt shop at Ivaco Rolling Mills, which makes wire rod and steel billets — semi-finished products that go on for further processing elsewhere. Earlier this month, the company announced it will lay off 50 people of the 538 who work there, most directly because of the tariffs the United States has put on Canadian steel imports.

Automation, punishing tariffs and now additional costs from the federal carbon tax in Ontario have left steel and aluminum companies in the town in a bind, the workers say.

But Berniquez isn’t ready to throw in the towel, nor would he considering moving to another town for work. He said it’s not how he was raised. “We need to protect what we’ve got,” he said.

As manufacturing declined, the town has found new sources of employment. More health-care jobs have flowed into town thanks to the local hospital, the steelworkers say, and, according to the latest census figures, the local service sector employs the largest share of workers in the town.

“These folks are making the (local) economy work,” said Richard Leblanc, the area co-ordinator for the United Steelworkers union. “We focus a lot on these big manufacturers that have gone, but some of that has been replaced.”

How quickly towns like Hawkesbury have to adapt is unclear. The government presentation notes that Canadian firms traditionally have low takeup rates of new technology. There is also uncertainty around how quickly new technology will come available and the breadth of its impact on any number of professions, including doctors and accountants.

A report this month from the Brookfield Institute suggested there are few easy answers for workers who want to know what training courses they should take to prepare. The report, produced to help a federal organization studying future skills needs, said a key problem is that the country lacks a “holistic, detailed, and actionable forecast of in-demand skills.”

“A complex array of changes could impact employment over the next 10 to 15 years. Some, such as population aging, are well understood, while others, such as technological change, present a high degree of uncertainty,” the report said. “When these changes interact, uncertainty expands, making it challenging to predict the future of Canada’s labour market, and more specifically, what skills will be most in-demand.”

The federal Liberals’ latest budget promised $1.7 billion in spending to provide a training tax credit and employment insurance benefits to cover wages during time away from work. The steelworkers questioned how low-income workers will be able to afford the upfront costs of programs and worried about time off from companies where training time is at a minimum because staff are stretched thin.

The spending in the 2019 budget comes after billions more, over three previous federal budgets, aimed at helping workers prepare for the tectonic digital shifts in the labour market, and help those in the workforce stay there later into life.

Hawkesbury’s future is more clouded because so many younger workers have gone off to college and university and moved away. In fact, nearby Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., have the lowest shares of at-risk workers in their respective provinces, based on the Finance Department calculations.

David Bruneault stayed in Hawkesbury as friends got higher educations, eventually landing jobs as teachers or physiotherapists down the highway in the capital. The 34-year-old went into manufacturing, but says he’s willing to take a retraining course to learn to do something else.

“You don’t want to be left with nothing,” Bruneault said. “I’m thinking about it a lot more now, too, because everything is uncertain.”

— Follow @jpress on Twitter

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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China asks for suspension of Canadian meat, citing forged certificates

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OTTAWA — The Chinese Embassy said Tuesday it has asked Canada to suspended all meat exports, a surprise move that comes amid the diplomatic dispute over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for a G20 leaders’ summit in Japan, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The embassy said in a statement to The Canadian Press on Tuesday that this latest move follows Chinese customs inspectors’ detection of residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. The additive has permitted uses in Canada but is banned in China.

“The subsequent investigation revealed that the official veterinary health certificates attached to the batch of pork exported to China were counterfeit and the number of those forgery certificates was up to 188. The Canadian side believes that this incident is criminal offence,” said the embassy statement.

“These forged certificates were sent to the Chinese regulatory authorities through Canadian official certificate notification channel, which reflects that the Canadian meat export supervision system exists obvious safety loopholes.”

China is therefore taking “urgent preventive measures” to protect Chinese customers and has asked the Canadian government to suspend all meat-export certificates, the embassy said.

“We hope the Canadian side would attach great importance to this incident, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure the safety of food exported to China in a more responsible manner.”

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau did not immediately comment on the report.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec, which first reported the story, quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended import permits for three pork producers.

A senior Canadian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the dispute, described the matter as a “technical issue.”

The official said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is “seized with the issue and looking into the matter to ensure that all the rules are being followed.”

The CFIA is working with Chinese officials to resolve the matter.

“This is a technical issue related to potentially fraudulent permits,” said the official. “We stand by the quality of Canadian products.”

The Conservatives blamed Trudeau.

“Conservatives know that Canadian farmers produce some of the highest-quality meat in the world. Any assertion by the Chinese government to the contrary is both false and baseless,” said a statement from Tory agriculture critic Luc Berthold. “It is clear that this is not an issue of food safety, but a political issue caused by Justin Trudeau’s incompetence and weakness on the world stage.”

Berthold said Trudeau has to “personally raise this issue” with Xi in at the G20 meeting and demand the trade barriers be lifted.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Report: China bans all Canadian meat before G20 as Trudeau turns to Trump on detainees

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OTTAWA — A report in a Quebec newspaper says China has suspended all Canadian meat exports in a dramatic escalation of its diplomatic dispute with Canada over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for the G20 leaders’ summit, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

The diplomat says the move is being taken because about 100 faked veterinary health certificates have been identified on exported meat products.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has yet to comment on the report.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended export permits for three pork producers.

The Canadian Press

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