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Here’s why Canada’s industry minister thinks the country needs to seize a ‘generational opportunity’


Here’s why Canada’s industry minister thinks the country needs to seize a ‘generational opportunity’

OTTAWA – It’s a familiar pitch with a new urgency.

Next week, a pair of Canadian cabinet ministers head to Washington to meet with top Biden administration officials and U.S. companies to talk national and economic security, and the beauty of integrating North American interests.

Coming a few weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden visits Ottawa, the trip by Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Defence Minister Anita Anand to Capitol Hill is aimed at focusing American minds on the Canadian market.

In the hustle to “friend-shore” and build a stronger North American value-added supply chain in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, the ministers are trekking to Washington to promote mutually beneficial ties in those sectors, and in the defence and aerospace sectors as well.

Champagne believes Canada is at a critical juncture, especially as the U.S. funnels billions of dollars towards “greening” its domestic industries via the Inflation Reduction Act, and other countries in Europe, Asia and the U.K. vie for business.

The industry minister also wants Canadian companies and their CEOs to aim higher as international competition heats up to get ahead of the green technology curve.

In an interview with the Star, he said CEOs of global corporations that have subsidiaries here, or who are eyeing Canada for expansion, “want greener supply chains” and are more bullish on the advantages he’s been pitching than Canadians sometimes are.

“I think we need to raise our level of ambition, and I think we need to collectively make that case for Canada,” Champagne said.

“It’s not just me. It’s all of us together to realize that we have the key ingredients to succeed in the economy of the 21st century.”

Besides their U.S. political counterparts, the ministers are meeting key company executives including those from Lockheed Martin, which has just won the contract to supply fighter jets to Canada, and with aerospace and defence giant General Dynamics, which makes armoured vehicles in Canada and supplied the 39 armoured combat support vehicles Canada bought for Ukraine. Other potential meetings are with Boeing and Raytheon.

It’s a bid to bolster stronger defence supply chains and to, in the words of one Canadian official, press the case that continental “economic security is national security, and vice versa.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa said “one of the strengths of the U.S.-Canada relationship is the regular dialogue between leaders at the highest levels of our governments on how best to reach shared goals in the bilateral relationship,” and the ministerial visit is part of that “continuous dialogue.”


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The embassy, in a statement to the Star, also noted that when Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Mexico on Jan. 10, they discussed the “generational opportunity to strengthen supply chains for critical minerals, electric vehicles, and semiconductors and to unleash the full economic potential of our shared continent.”

Champagne also uses the phrase “generational opportunity,” and while he believes there are lots of opportunities to work with the U.S., he’s also set his sights on broader global markets.

In 2022, he travelled to Japan three times and South Korea twice, as well as to Germany, Belgium and other European countries, to pitch Canada’s advantages.

He said while Canadians tend to be “sometimes pessimistic” about the country’s economic prospects, “we need to seize the moment and be ambitious.”

Champagne acknowledged Canada cannot match the billions of dollars the U.S. and Europe are prepared to pour into their respective efforts. But, he said, at a time of “unprecedented risk” in many parts of the world, he goes into corporate boardrooms touting Canada’s strategic advantages: governing stability, respect for rule of law, tariff-free access to markets, an abundance of renewable energy and “talent.”

“Pretty much every jurisdiction that would like to be in our position,” he said.

Champagne also dismissed critics of government subsidies to lure corporations, saying without such “investments,” Canada would not have created “a battery ecosystem which is now ranked second in the world by Bloomberg.” Government subsidies, he added, “are part of the equation everywhere in the world.”

“This was a deliberate choice, which will have long lasting, I would say, dividends for generations to come of workers. My thing is not just to create jobs for now, but for the future.”

The peripatetic minister rhymes off projects he’s landed, or is working hard to land — 13 since he took up the post two years ago. Among them: German-headquartered Volkswagen is scouting a factory site for its first automotive plant outside Europe and seriously looking at Canada; Moderna decided to build an mRNA vaccine plant in Montreal; and Stellantis has committed to a $5-billion electric battery manufacturing plant in Windsor.

Those don’t happen without government support, he said. On his to-do list for the months ahead, Champagne said, Canada needs to “secure these large battery investments” – which he said “is going to be a game-changer in terms of our industrial policy.”

The minister listed other sectors he’s determined to promote: bio-manufacturing, aerospace, critical minerals, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.

Champagne said at a time when energy prices are skyrocketing and global CEOs are looking for a greener supply chain, whether it’s “clean” energy, steel or aluminum, Canada’s pitch is “music to their ears.”

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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