The fallout from the recent chaos in the British steel industry should look familiar to many Ontarians. Major steel producers in the province, most prominently U.S. Steel Canada in Hamilton and Essar Steel Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie, have shed jobs and filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years and there is little sign of ongoing slow-drip of bad news being halted any time soon.
Much of this continued pain for workers, pensioners and community rests on the lack of action by governments. Just as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has proposed a bold plan to save the Port Talbot facility of Tata Steel, so too should Ontario’s leaders in all levels of government look to a develop a robust, strategic response to our own crisis in steel.
The development of a steel strategy must begin with a recognition of the critical place in direct and indirect employment that the steel industry has in communities across Ontario, most notably Sault Ste. Marie and the Hamilton region. The industry, the people it employs and the communities it supports, should not simply be left twisting in the global winds whilst unfairly subsidized competitors continue to erode natural advantages and cause further decline.
Three-pronged approach to save Canadian steel
Government policies should engage in a three-pronged approach of supporting current workers and retirees through the recent difficulties in the industry, ensuring maximum spin-off employment value for upcoming infrastructure projects and harnessing Ontario’s natural resources in the Ring of Fire region in a way that encourages in-province upgrading on a full-cycle basis. All of these should be linked to broader government strategies linked to high-skill manufacturing and carbon output reduction.
Given that both Essar Steel in Sault Ste. Marie and the U.S. Steel stake in Hamilton are currently in creditor protection, and thereby attempting to shed pension liabilities even whilst continuing CEO bonuses, it has become very clear that existing law in this area is inadequate. It should not be the case that pensioners and workers are made to pay the cost of poor management decisions that they did not cause.
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