Job losses haunt Niagara Centre: Provincial candidates agree mid-peninsula highway could help
attract new industry


The Standard (St. Catharines - Niagara) Fri 19 Sep 2003 Byline: Kalvin Reid

Job losses haunt Niagara Centre: Provincial candidates agree mid-peninsula highway could help
attract new industry

WELLAND - A cloud is hanging over Atlas Specialty Steels.

Parent company Slater Steel has sought creditor protection, jeopardizing 630 jobs at the Welland plant -- good jobs with high wages.

The economic impact could be devastating, especially when the loss of the Atlas jobs is piled on top of the stream of industrial jobs that have left the Niagara Centre riding in the past four years.
And the province has to play some role to stem the tide, says Welland Mayor Cindy Forster.

"There needs to be some assistance from the provincial level of government to support established industries in the Niagara region," she said.

"With the free trade agreement, Canada, and Niagara Centre in particular, has been really hard hit with the loss of heavy industrial jobs."

According to the Niagara Economic and Tourism Corp., the regional economic development agency, manufacturing jobs in Niagara fell from 36,500 in 2000 to 33,400 in 2001.


As a percentage of all the jobs in Niagara, manufacturing jobs are down to 18.1 per cent of the job market, a decline from 20.4 per cent in 1996.

The decrease is clearly seen in Niagara Centre. The troubles at Atlas are just the latest in a string of industrial job losses in the riding which includes Welland, Thorold, Pelham and south St. Catharines.

In 1999, 300 employees were put out of work when the Gallaher Paper Mill shut down in Thorold.

And in the past year, the job losses have escalated almost exponentially.


Last October, the Domtar plant in south St. Catharines closed its doors, eliminating 210 jobs.

Then GDX Automotive in Welland laid off 93 workers in February, followed a month later by the loss of 147 jobs when Stelco closed its Welland Pipe factory.

Then came the Atlas situation.

Forster said the reasons are multi-faceted, from the dumping of cheap imports on the domestic market to soft markets, high taxes and high utility costs.

"It doesn't seem to me the provincial level of government has been addressing that situation," she
said.

The City of Welland is in the process of developing two new industrial parks along Regional Road 140 on the way to Port Colborne, totalling 60 hectares, with the hopes of luring new industry.

"We are moving forward to ensure we have readily available industrial parks," Forster said.

The province can also help by moving ahead with the development of the mid-peninsula highway, Forster said.

While a route will not be chosen until the environmental assessment is completed, which will likely take a few years, Forster is hopeful a route south of Welland will be chosen, a route close to the city's new industrial lands.

Incumbent New Democrat Peter Kormos penned a letter to Premier Ernie Eves shortly after the election was called, pleading for the province to step in and keep the Atlas plant open, much like the contributions from the federal and provincial governments kept the Navistar plant in Chatham
operational.

"It is quite a concern across Ontario," Kormos said.

The outspoken veteran MPP said five key components are needed to ensure the survival of major
industries such as automaking, steel production, pulp and paper, aerospace and shipbuilding.

"The anchor of maintaining an industrial presence is the availability of a stable, affordable supply

of electricity," he said.


"In a private, deregulated system, that is not the case."

Kormos also cited government investment in research and development, redeveloped apprenticeship and training programs, a strong environment industry -- producing green energy and redeveloping brownfields and a strong transportation infrastructure.

"As we all know, the federal government abandoned rail, regrettably," Kormos said.

"I don't think the utilization of the Seaway has ever been lower. A lot of this is because of the
just-in-time delivery of today's industry."

The answer in Niagara is the mid-peninsula highway, Kormos said, but it has to be a well-placed and well-connected road.

And instead of being mired in wrangling among Burlington, Niagara and the province, the environmental assessment for the highway should be well under way, Kormos said.

"We have a provincial government which says it is going to build a mid-peninsula corridor, but it
doesn't know where it will build it or if it will be a toll road," he said.

"People should be outraged that the EA was not started three years ago."

Kormos, Liberal candidate Henry D'Angela and Conservative candidate Ann Gronski are agreed the highway would help attract new industry to Niagara Centre.

But the completion of the new highway has to be connected to the expansion of Highway 406 to Port Colborne, D'Angela said.

"We need good transportation infrastructure so people will invest in our area," he said.

"Niagara Centre is the heart of the region. Better infrastructure will give us easier access to
Hamilton and Toronto and easier access to the United States border."

But it is only one component of what should be a comprehensive plan, Gronski said.

"We're committed to cutting taxes for hard working Ontarians and the companies that employ them," Gronski said.

"Tax cuts stimulate expansion and encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in Niagara
and bring more jobs to Niagara."

D'Angela is also calling for brownfield redevelopment and emphasizes the Liberal policy
promises to expand training and re-employment programs.

However, it is still a question of whether those new skills are put to use in Niagara, or elsewhere, he said. For that, the government has to take an active role in ensuring the economic climate is right for heavy industry.

"There has to be a proactive approach to looking at industry," D'Angela said.

"It's not just Atlas. Stelco is also going through troubled times. We have to help them along.

"The province should be playing a leading role in sustaining the manufacturing industry."

In many areas, the government has taken that approach, Gronski said. It just hasn't happened in
Niagara Centre.

"We haven't had an advocate who's had the tools to provide investment in this area," she said. "Our current MPP hasn't been able to dodge the perception of the riding as one dominated by unions instead of partnerships."

The province's role should be to help companies modernize their operations so they can compete in the free trade market, Forster said.

"We need jobs that can support families," she said.

"Welland has been lucky in the last term to have attracted a national call centre which created 1,000 jobs.

"But we also need jobs paying between $20 and $25 an hour so people can support their families."

 

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