A Canadian Steel Industry Is Vital for Our 21st-Century Economy

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As the crisis in Canada’s steel industry deepens, tens of thousands of working families and pensioners grow increasingly anxious for support from their political leaders.

These families and pensioners are now being joined by their fellow citizens, community groups, labour and municipal leaders in mobilizing to bring attention to the steel crisis and urge our federal and provincial governments to act now — before it’s too late.

Unless our governments take decisive, meaningful action, not only will the livelihoods of so many be jeopardized, we could soon witness the irrevocable loss of a cornerstone of the 21st-century manufacturing economy that Canada needs.

Steel manufacturing in Canada is a $14-billion-per-year industry that currently supports 20,000 direct jobs, with another 100,000 indirect jobs tied to the sector. Tens of thousands of steel industry retirees rely on the continued viability of their pension plans for a dignified retirement and protection from dire poverty.

Communities across the country depend on tax revenues and economic spinoffs generated by the steel sector to support local businesses and to fund our hospitals, schools and other essential public services.

The crisis stems from a worldwide collapse in steel prices, struggling energy and resource sectors and the massive dumping of illegally subsidized steel from China and other jurisdictions with poor environmental, safety and labour standards.

We know that the steel and resource sectors are cyclical in nature and there will eventually be a turnaround in the economic conditions currently crippling Canada’s steelmakers.

Canada needs a strong, domestic steel industry to provide our manufacturing sector with the steel to build cars, buses, trains, wind turbines, energy projects and all manner of infrastructure development essential for a strong, modern economy.

In fact, our new federal government plans to invest $60 billion on infrastructure in the next 10 years alone. Provincial and municipal governments will add significantly to those investments.

In the meantime, our governments must recognize that our steel manufacturing capacity can simply be moved out of the country, possibly never to return. It is critical for our governments to support this key, strategic industry that is so vital to our communities and our country’s economic future.

As the crisis worsens, time is of the essence.

Two of our country’s largest steelmakers — U.S. Steel Canada in Hamilton and Nanticoke and Essar Steel Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie — are operating under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Thousands of jobs hang in the balance. Tens of thousands of retirees have already lost their health-care benefits and their pensions are now at risk.

Other major producers, including Tenaris Steel and Evraz North America, have resorted to layoffs in an attempt to stay afloat.

Canada’s steel industry is a technically skilled, value-added, state-of-the-art sector. It produces some of the highest grades of steel products anywhere in the world. But even sophisticated operations are at risk in the current crisis, exacerbated by massive dumping of subsidized foreign steel.

The United Steelworkers knows that it makes good economic sense for our governments to support and invest in a viable Canadian steel industry.

We have sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, imploring our governments to take action immediately.

We’re calling on our political leaders to champion a Steel Industry Action Plan, to help the industry restructure and enhance its ability to compete for the long term. This plan must include measures to counter foreign dumping and other unfair trade practices, short-term loans to help domestic producers weather the crisis, investments in research and development, workforce training and support for pensions and benefits for retirees.

Every day, more and more Canadians are recognizing what’s at stake. Thousands of concerned citizens from across Ontario and beyond are expected to attend a massive rally on January 30 in Hamilton, to demand action from our governments.

The loss of domestic steel production would have enormous, long-term effects for industry-dependent communities across the country. Our governments have a duty to work with industry, labour and community leaders on a proactive strategy to ensure the viability and sustainability of a Canadian steel sector.

The livelihoods of tens of thousands of Canadian workers and pensioners, their communities and our country’s economic prosperity depend on it.

Marty Warren is the United Steelworkers Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

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