Asked to identify Canada’s most important manufacturing sector, few people would point to their dinner plates. And if current platforms are any indication, politicians also don’t recognize that the food sector is the No. 1 source of manufacturing jobs in Canada.
In advance of the election next month, Canada’s food sector is making a clear push to change that.
Nearly 300,000 people across every province and territory work in food, beverage and consumer goods manufacturing — that’s more Canadian manufacturing jobs than in the aviation and automobile industries, combined.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, 6,500 people work making the safe, affordable groceries their communities rely on.
Yet all is not well.
We are a top employer, our products are found in millions of homes, and 9,000 facilities add value to Canada’s crops by transforming them into finished products.
It’s a surprise, then, that the sector receives relatively little political attention to the serious barriers that threaten our future as an engine for growth in Canada’s economy.
Production costs in Canada are high and increasing, driving producers to more competitive environments, like the United States.
While we are proud that Canada’s food supply is amongst the safest in the world, the weight of 140,000 regulations at the federal level alone is a particularly heavy burden on the small businesses that make up 90 per cent of the sector.
These and other barriers are already taking a big bite out of Canadians’ budgets and job prospects. Canada lost 12 jobs in the sector every day for the last five years, and the average family of four spent $400 more on groceries this year than last. An astonishing nine in 10 Canadians fear rising food prices. Most (70 per cent) think prices will rise further unless government prioritizes strengthening the food industry.
Poll after poll shows that the rising cost of living is a defining issue for voters.
A recent Abacus Data poll found that food prices are the biggest driver of concern. Despite this fear, Dalhousie University recently reported that most Canadians do not expect food to be a prime issue in the upcoming election, pointing to a troubling disconnect between voters’ everyday concerns and the drivers of our political debates.
Food and Consumer Products Canada (FCPC) wants politicians to know the mandate is clear. No matter who wins the election in October, the new government must commit to help reverse losses and support growth in Canada’s food sector, creating jobs and keeping Newfoundland and Labrador open for business.
That means cutting red tape, enabling investment and innovation at home, increasing trade opportunities overseas and dealing with the rising costs of getting and keeping products in the handful of large grocery chains where most Canadians shop.
When it comes to the products we rely on every day, we have a lot in common. We get up in the morning, eat breakfast, bathe, brush our teeth, pack lunches, get ready for work and so on. We are proud to make the foods, beverages and household products Canadians trust as fixtures in our everyday lives.
Canada’s food producers and workers are at a critical crossroads. We have enormous potential to grow and create jobs, purchase more of Canada’s crops and farm goods, and keep made-in-Canada food on store shelves.
But we can’t do it alone.
As the voice of the nation’s largest manufacturing employer, FCPC today is renewing our call for candidates and parties to commit to strengthening the sector so many Canadians rely on. We’ve delivered clear priorities that must shape the next government’s approach to food regulations, innovation and a fair playing field at home and overseas.
Nearly 300,000 workers today and countless jobs of the future demand nothing less.
Michael Graydon is CEO of Food and Consumer Products of Canada. He writes from Mississauga, Ont.