Northumberland County keenly felt the sting of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. Since then, we have watched our manufacturing base disappear. Kraft was the last major manufacturer to join the growing list that includes Columbus McKinnon, Budd Plastics, Nicholson File, Mathews Conveyor, among others.
Opposition to global trade is an old horse nobody really wants to ride anymore. The opening of markets and the signing of free trade agreements with various countries raises few hackles, except from the usual suspects: labour organizations, environmental groups and social activists.
Sadly, powerful corporations and the current Conservative government successfully created a system where public consultation and transparency are no longer demanded by citizens.
Even U. S. President Barrack Obama failed to follow through with his election campaign pledge in February 2008 to conduct bilateral meetings with Canada and Mexico with the “active and open involvement of citizens, labour, the private sector and non-governmental organizations in setting the agenda and making progress.”
Canada has never made such a pronouncement, and why should it? The current government and the public marginalize labour organizations and non-government organizations almost universally. And this is further compounded by the Conservative government’s disdain for mainstream media, leaving citizens lacking vital information prior to the signing of any agreements.
So far, the only consultations going on are between a blue chip advisory panel made up of large corporations who are only interested in perpetuating and intensifying a trade model that benefits only them, leaving aside any environmental, labour, health and security concerns.
Considering the negative impact of free trade on Northumberland County, Northumberland-Quinte West MP Rick Norlock should be more open about his position in this area. Ontario’s economy is suffering due to the collapse of its manufacturing sector. And while he has announced a litany of government infrastructure and other grants within the riding, he is making no substantial effort to address local economic matters.
In fact, it appears Norlock is quite content to sit idly by, taking his marching orders from his masters in Ottawa, while the local economy struggles. He has made no move to strike an economic committee, nor has he openly stated his opinions on many major matters like the Panama deal or other local economic issues.
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Certainly, he bemoaned the impact of the General Motors restructuring, but he has failed to be proactive on bringing together economic development officers, municipal leaders, unions, businesses and everyday people to sit around a table to create a unique strategy for Northumberland.
It is high time Norlock makes his move to set himself apart and stop being a puppet for the prime minister and his office. He can do this by demanding a more open and transparent approach to foreign trade and by also taking the initiative for some local solutions to the economy.