The calls have been so frequent and made by so many over the years that the idea of a national auto strategy has almost become white noise.
But Canada needs one now more than ever.
Brendan Sweeney, the executive director of the London, Ont.-based Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing, convinced me of that on the Dec. 3 episode of the Automotive News Canada podcast.
He told me he’s “100 million per cent” behind the idea, and here’s why: The traditional automotive industry and its supply chain are changing — and fast.
The rapid pace of electrification means mining is now part of the auto industry. And with the race toward autonomous vehicles well under way, technology is an even greater part of the supply chain. And, of course, as now-retired Magna CEO Don Walker once said — and I’m paraphrasing — vehicles will always need seats.
This Canadian auto industry is no longer essentially contained along Ontario’s Highway 401 between Windsor and Oshawa. It now can — and should — include mining in northern Ontario and Quebec. It includes the fuel-cell research being done by companies such as Ballard in Burnaby, B.C.
And what about Alberta? Yes, Alberta, where the Alberta Centre for Advanced Microsystems and Nanotechnology Products (ACAMP) supports the development of autonomous-transportation technologies.
And there’s Canada’s own battery guru, Jeff Dahn, whom we recently profiled, doing battery research in Halifax.
The auto industry and the federal government policy affecting it can no longer be ignored by folks in Alberta or Manitoba, which is a hub for bus and fire-truck assembly. Sure, those aren’t automobiles, but they’re transportation.
“Until relatively recently, it was really quite hard to pitch automotive as a pan-Canadian thing to folks in Saskatchewan or folks in Cape Breton,” Sweeney said. “But if we can do this tip-to-tail battery supply chain, well, this extends into northern communities and extends into First Nations communities.
“So, it’s about time. We have clusters and lists of discrete initiatives and very valuable capabilities. We have to bring them together. And it’s going to take a strategy to do that, and it’s going to take a coordination and probably some type of coordinating body of authority. We can’t have seven coordinating bodies. It’s time.”
The need for a coordinated effort — especially aimed at the rise of U.S. protectionism, particularly President Joe Biden’s proposed EV credit — has put together some strange bedfellows.
On Dec. 9, the Ontario government created the Premier’s Council on U.S. Trade and Industry Competitiveness, designed to keep the province competitive in manufacturing — automotive in particular. Interestingly, Premier Doug Ford’s council will be chaired by Unifor President Jerry Dias.
A Conservative government’s council chaired by a unionist. I never thought I would see the day.
Speaking to suppliers just days before the council’s creation, Ford nailed it:
“This is the time for a Team Canada approach.”