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
haunt Niagara Centre: Provincial candidates agree mid-peninsula highway
attract new industry
- 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
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
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
"It doesn't seem to me the provincial level of government has been addressing
that situation," she
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
"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
"The anchor of maintaining an industrial presence is the availability
of a stable, affordable supply
"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,"
"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
"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
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,
"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
"There has to be a proactive approach to looking at industry," D'Angela
"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
In many areas, the government has taken that approach, Gronski said.
It just hasn't happened in
"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."