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Big Three bailout can be 'win-win'

By Meredith Macleod,
November 21, 2008

Each and every minute, $1.2 million worth of goods and services are exchanged between Canada and the United States.

That's well over $650 billion every year.

And almost one-quarter of the merchandise crossing the border in the world's biggest trading alliance is used to build cars and trucks.

For that reason, letting the so-called Big Three Detroit automakers fail would devastate both economies, said David Kilgour, a former Alberta MP who released a book last year called Uneasy Neighbours: Canada, the USA and the Dynamics of State, Industry and Culture. He was speaking at a conference yesterday dedicated to helping local businesses explore and create opportunities in the U.S.

"I can't believe a new (American) administration can allow an industry on which three million jobs depend to go under," Kilgour said. "How can all $700 billion (of the federal bailout package) be available to Wall Street and none for the millions of Americans in the auto sector?"

He said governments in the U.S. and Canada should tie loan guarantees to concessions among managers and staff, business plans that mimic those of foreign automakers like Toyota and Honda, job guarantees and the production of fuel-efficient, green automobiles.

"A bailout can be a win-win but we have to stop pampering CEOs and pay them non-rock star salaries."

The Ford Edge is a perfect example of the cross-border collaboration between Canada and the U.S., said Stephen Brereton, consul general at the Canadian consulate in Buffalo. The crossover vehicle is assembled in Oakville but 80 per cent of its body parts are built in Hamburg, N.Y.

"We truly build things together," Brereton said.

The conference, held at the Royal Botanical Gardens, was jointly hosted by the chambers of commerce of Hamilton, Burlington, Brantford and Oakville. Hamilton chamber president Tyler MacLeod said too many Canadians are complacent about the country's trade relationship with our continental neighbours.

"We have a very special relationship with the U.S. and we shouldn't lose sight of that. People make the mistake of downplaying it or forgetting the magnitude of it."

In fact, Canada relies on trade more than any other developed country, Kilgour said. Exports accounted for 38 per cent of the country's gross domestic product in 2004. Imports accounted for 34 per cent.

"We do more trade with the United States in one week than with China in a year."

Other presenters at the conference included John Nay, U.S. consul general; Peter Buchanan, strategist and senior economist at CIBC World Markets; and Paul Bates, dean of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University.

Session topics included immigration, mergers and acquisitions, and border security.

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