Matthew J. Bellamy is an associate professor of history at Carleton University in Ottawa and the author of Profiting the Crown: Canada’s Polymer Corporation.
When General Motors announced in late November that it would be closing its plant in Oshawa, Ont., the outrage was immediate – and perfectly understandable. Here was a strategic move on the part of a multinational company, tearing out roots and slashing the manufacturing jobs that were the lifeblood of the town. Add in the billions of dollars that Ottawa had spent to keep the company in Canada, and it’s easy to see why Canadians would take this so personally.
Meanwhile, the recent news about Barrick Gold – that it would lay off more than half of the staff at its Toronto head office in the wake of a merger with Randgold, an African operator headquartered in the Channel Islands, and revamp its board of directors to leave just one Canadian-born member who lives in New York – hasn’t stirred the emotions in quite the same way.
Fair enough, too: Much of Barrick’s business, since it transitioned from a money-losing oil and gas firm to a money-spinning mining company, has happened outside of Canada, in places such as the United States, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Argentina and Chile. And even though the company’s dynamic founder, Peter Munk, lived in Canada for seven decades, he passed away in March.
Besides, even if industry veteran Pierre Lassonde says these recent moves effectively mean that Barrick is “not going to be a de facto Canadian company, period,” the company’s new chief executive, Mark Bristow, insists he plans to keep the headquarters in the city. So does it really matter that Barrick’s “heart” isn’t wrapped in red and white?
But Canada’s diminished presence in Barrick’s head office might actually be more lamentable, and a bigger blow to the national fabric. And the reasons go beyond Canadian culture’s usual inferiority complex, which gets inflamed when a homegrown kid leaves town.
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