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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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Canadians are buying lots of things. They're also making lots of things.
Canadians are buying lots of things. They're also making lots of things.

O Canada, we are sometimes envious of thee

Business is just booming in Canada, eh. That message rang loud and clear at the Milwaukee World Trade Association's 44th annual Wisconsin International Trade Conference Tuesday.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to moderate a panel discussion on Canadian / U.S. trade relations at the conference, which took place at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee.

Here in the United States, we're slogging through record national debt, two wars, record gas prices, skyrocketing food costs, an icy housing market, the subprime mortgage collapse, low consumer confidence, plummeting retail sales, a weak U.S. dollar and tightened credit.

To validate our woes, only six of the 19 local economic indicators tracked by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce pointed upward in March.

A lot of folks like to blame the messenger, i.e. the media. But I am here to tell you straight out that the media did not cause Harley-Davidson Inc. or Midwest Airlines to eliminate hundreds of jobs. The media did not cause Dell Inc. to cut 10 percent of its workforce or General Motors Corp. to cut 3,500 jobs, including about 200 in Janesville.

The reality is we've got some strong headwinds to fight through around here, but we're doing our best to keep moving forward.

However, our neighbors to the north apparently are faring far better at this point in time.

Nancy Ward, director of the Canadian Trade Office of the Council of Great Lakes Governors in Toronto, Ontario, spoke on the panel Tuesday with great exuberance about the health of the Canadian economy.

Canada has no recession, she said. In fact, its economy is a reverse-mirror image of America's economy, with a strong Canadian dollar, a tidy government budget surplus, an oil market boom, soaring retail sales, strong consumer confidence and unemployment at a 33-year low.

"Canadians are buying lots of things," Ward said.

They're also making lots of things.

In 2004, Ontario made automotive history when it surpassed Michigan as the largest automotive producing jurisdiction in North America, according to Ward's Automotive. While Detroit withers, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Suzuki and Toyota have shifted production plants to Canada.

I asked Ward why America is losing so much production and so many jobs to Canada. She did not hesitate with her answer. "Health care."

America has the highest health care costs in the world. I know it deeply disturbs many Wisconsin business leaders to hear it, but Canada's government-paid, universal health care system is an economic competitive asset, when compared with America's mish-mosh system that is part private, part socialistic and all redundant, inefficient and costly.

Ward also noted that Canada has a more tightly regulated mortgage banking system, so its economy has not been nearly as shell-shocked by the subprime collapse as the American economy has been.

I know what some of you are thinking. Something along the lines of, "Those Canadians don't have to pay for their defense, because we do it for them."

True enough. But then again, there's a matter of degree. America's total cost for the war in Iraq could reach the $3 trillion mark, according to Nobel Prize economic laureate Joseph Steiglitz.

Some other observations from the speakers on the Canadian business panel Tuesday:

Georges Rioux, Canadian Consul General in Chicago, said the pressure is growing to create a "smart border" with the United States, using better technology and more manpower. In this era of "just in time" manufacturing and high fuel costs, neither country can afford to have its 18-wheelers standing idle in traffic jams at the border, waiting for inspections, Rioux said. "It's important for our tourists, it's important for our truckers, but most of all, it's important to our way of life," Rioux said.

JoAnn Queen, senior international trade specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is the subject of considerable debate in the U.S. presidential election, has been a resounding success for businesses on both sides of the Canadian border.

Bill Werra, business unit manager for the process division of Sentry Equipment Corp. in Oconomowoc, said his company is growing rapidly as it manufactures equipment for harvesting bitumen from the oil sands of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. The locals up there have dubbed their town "Fort McMoney," he said.

Roch Lambert, vice president and general manager of the Outboard Marine Engines Division of BRP US Inc., said his company is thriving quite nicely in Sturtevant. He attributed the operation's success to its proximity to the Canadian company's development center in Waukegan, Ill.; the quality of the Wisconsin labor force; a local talent pool of qualified engineers; strong support from the Wisconsin state government; and a tight cultural fit of "outdoorsmen who like to play outside ... We're extremely happy to be here."

Greg Charlesworth, vice president of foreign exchange services for M&I Bank, said the Canadian budget surplus "is a great advantage for their currency." He predicted that the U.S. economy will "pick up" a little bit in the second half of 2008, and interest rates will rise here in 2009. However, all bets are off if crude oil prices continue rising toward the $200 per barrel mark, he said.

Talkbacks

CoolerKing | May 22, 2008 at 8:18 a.m. (report)

mkelover - So you think the only reason to be a doctor is the cash incentive? How about being passionate about your profession and having an actual interest in your work? I have the abilities to make tons of money doing something else, but I love the work I do. I make a decent living, have a roof over my head, food to eat and also do something through my work to benefit others (yes, I am in the healthcare field). If you're only doing what you do just for the money and nothing else then you're on the way to a boring, crappy career with nothing to look forward to other than your time off.

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TheyThink | May 16, 2008 at 2:33 p.m. (report)

And I'm sure that those few Canadians whom you speak to about their healthcare system are relatively healthy so their experience with it is quite the opposite of someone who is a regular. Doctors are all paid the same so there's no incentive to stand out, do more than is expected, and thus earn more money. The wait to see doctors, get minor/major surgeries is quite long and hope that you don't need to go to the emergency room, you could be waiting days, not hours or minutes. And again, a rather homogenous population of 33 million compared to a very diverse 330 million is a lot easier to run a nationalized health care system.

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halljj | May 16, 2008 at 9:18 a.m. (report)

The real problem is not the unregulated healthcare costs of the US but the REGULATED costs of healthcare in other Western nations such as Canada. Due to their government intervention, many healthcare companies are not able to charge the true cost of developing their products to hospitals and/or patients, only recouping the cost of innovation in one market: ours. This means that US citizens pay significantly more than our share for healthcare products (everything from drugs to implants to CT scans). It's a no-brainer that other companies and businesses will take advantage of this situation by moving their business operations to such nations... but that doesn't make it the fault of US policy. Quite the contrary!

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CoolerKing | May 16, 2008 at 7:43 a.m. (report)

Do tell, mkelover, what makes their healthcare system crappy? I don't know a lot of Canadians but a few I've met have no issues with their system.

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TheyThink | May 15, 2008 at 6:42 p.m. (report)

Ah yes, life in Canada is soooooo much better and it's all on account of nationalized health care!!! Uh, Steve, Canada has had nationalized healthcare for YEARS...this is not some new or recent program. To try and infer that the US would have some sort of economic boom because of nationalized healthcare is sophomoric at best. Providing healthcare (crappy healthcare by the way) to 33 million people instead of 310 million people (and that's not counting those here illegally) is a dichtomy.

What Steve fails to mention in his article is that Canada is now led by a conservative who has fostered economic growth and provided incentives for new business and innovation.

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