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Governments Should Promote Local Buying During Pandemic Recovery


David McLean

The global pandemic sent shockwaves through Canada’s manufacturing supply chains. Border restrictions, outbreaks and resulting shortages forced Canadian industry to pause, take a breath and re-evaluate the risks associated with increasingly international supply chains.

They are also taking a hard look at how nurturing a local (read: Canadian) supply chain brings benefits that are perhaps undervalued.

That’s why government and industry should work together to celebrate Canadian manufacturing and promote local buying. Not only would this kind of government and consumer action help struggling Canadian manufacturers survive the pandemic downturn in the short term, it would also make the Canadian economy more resilient to inevitable future supply chain shocks resulting from natural disasters, war, famine and of course, pandemics.

Interesting, though, that such a “mom and apple pie” kind of proposal is often met with skepticism from policymakers. In a recent meeting with manufacturers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likened a “Canadian made” campaign to a form of protectionism in contravention of free trade agreements with foreign governments.

So, let’s address this head-on: trade agreements like the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) are critical to the growth of Canadian manufacturing and overall global competitiveness. Manufacturers embrace both the advantages of fair trade to their market access and supply chains, and the competition it brings. Manufacturers don’t want to see a new era of Trump-style protectionism in Canada. Moreover, Canada should never emulate the truly protectionist “buy American” policies currently in place in the US.

Rather, manufacturers want to see a concerted, collective effort by industry, government, and consumers to address a significant blind spot – that, all things considered, local supply options will, over time, pay dividends that do more to enhance competitiveness than short-term decision making focused on chasing the cheapest deal.

Educating Canadians and Canadian businesses about the array of products produced in this country is a good start, but most important is government procurement policy reform, which can reflect this new awareness without contravening any trade agreements.

This approach also comes with great environmental benefits. A Trudeau government determined to take action on climate change would be wise to consider the well-documented reduction in GHG emissions associated with using Canadian suppliers. For example, the Canadian Steel Producers Association estimates the life cycle emissions of Chinese steel triples that of locally sourced products.

Provincial “buy local” campaigns have already been launched and applauded by Canadian manufacturers and consumers in Canada’s two largest provinces. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is front and center in a successful “Ontario made” campaign that has signed up more than 1,500 local manufacturers promoting their products under the Ontario made banner. Alberta should follow suit and the federal government should take the lead with a comprehensive country-wide strategy.

Now is the time to celebrate Alberta’s innovators and manufacturers, to reassess our supply chains and to re-evaluate the benefits of local procurement, and for governments to revisit public procurement – particularly when it comes to pandemic recovery stimulus spending.

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is the voice of Canadian manufacturing. CME represents more than 2,500 companies who account for an estimated 82 per cent of manufacturing output and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports.