Economic vision for Ontario

Posted on February 4, 2009 in Debates, Education Debates, Governance Debates – National – Economic vision for Ontario: foster ideas over industry
February 4, 2009.   KAREN HOWLETT

TORONTO — Ontario’s future depends on nurturing creativity and intelligence rather than protecting the past by bailing out struggling manufacturers, say the authors of a new report that calls for a sweeping transformation of Canada’s manufacturing heartland.

The transition to an economy based on brainpower rather than physical labour is already under way, says the report, commissioned by Premier Dalton McGuinty and written by urban thinker Richard Florida and Roger Martin, the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“Our time is seeing the rise of a whole new economic system that is based more on brain than brawn, more on ideas than capital, more on human creativity than natural resources and brute strength,” the authors say in their report, which is to be published tomorrow. A portion was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The authors call on the Ontario government to help speed the transition and ensure that the benefits of a knowledge economy are broadly based, by improving connections to urban centres and encouraging more residents to attend college or university.

“Ontario is relatively prosperous; but our assessment is that we have settled for a level of prosperity that sells our province short,” the authors say.

“We have in fact lost ground against the very best economies over the past twenty years.”

Mr. McGuinty asked Dr. Florida and Mr. Martin to study the changing composition of Ontario’s economy and work force last March, when the province was already suffering from thousands of job losses in the manufacturing sector.

Since then, however, the manufacturing job losses have escalated and the pain has spread to the entire economy. Ontario is now one of the poor cousins of Confederation, grabbing a share of the equalization pie for the first time, and it is facing several years of significant budget deficits.

A senior government official described the report as visionary. “Here’s where Ontario should be looking to go,” he said.

The report says Ontario is experiencing a replay of the first half of the 20th century, when jobs in the farming, fishing and forestry sectors declined as the agricultural age made way for the giant factories, steel mills and auto plants of the industrial age. But the latest transition is potentially bigger and more powerful, the report says.

The authors strongly urge the government not to bail out those companies that are destined to become relics of the industrial age. The Harper and McGuinty governments have pledged to provide $4-billion in aid for the auto sector.

“As in all times of economic crisis, there is considerable pressure on governments to protect the past and to undertake bailouts – to preserve what we have in this time of uncertainty,” the report says. “But this protective approach can only forestall the inevitable.”

The better way, the report says, is to make investments that will generate prosperity for the long term. The goal should be to raise the creative content of all jobs, including routine ones in the service sector.

The authors acknowledge that the transformation will be painful. But they say those regions that can extend the creative economy to the production of goods, services and resources will gain significant advantage.

Ontario must strive to be the world’s first jurisdiction to revolutionize routine work, to make it more creative and better paying.

The current economic crisis opens opportunities for the province to use its full creative talents to expand the businesses and industries of the future, the report says.

“In crises like these, nations, regions, provinces and states can rapidly change ground; they can improve or lose position, depending on the actions they take,” it says.


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