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Wilson hits the ground running in tough trade portfolio

July 13, 2018   ·   0 Comments

With a possible trade war with the United States looming, Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson has had no time to let the grass grow under his feet.

Late last month, Mr. Wilson was sworn in as Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Growth, a key portfolio for Premier Doug Ford who ran on a platform of getting Ontario back “open for business” but also a key portfolio for the country as a whole in light of recent steel and aluminum tariffs levied against Canada by U.S. President Donald Trump.

In the first of a two-part interview with The Times on his re-election, Mr. Wilson shares some of the challenges and opportunities that come with this demanding, varied, and, at times, uncertain, portfolio.

“Ontario is open for business again, so when the Premier suggested I might take a lead in that, I was pretty excited,” says Mr. Wilson. “As an MPP, one of your first priorities is to make sure people can feed their families and put food on the table. Without that, and your health, you don’t have much else to go on. That is a top priority for most elected politicians and I am happy to be one of the lead ministries.”

Mr. Wilson says his portfolio as Minister of Economic Development and Growth combines three ministries constituted under the previous Provincial government, including elements of jobs and small business promotion, as well as agricultural and rural Ontario.

Those are areas that hit close to Simcoe-Grey, a riding which has both its fair share of farming industries as well as significant manufacturing concerns, such as Honda.

“When I was at Canada Day celebrations, one fellow yelled out, ‘Don’t forget about us people at Honda. We’re relying on you, Jim,’” Mr. Wilson recalls. “It was a pretty humbling experience. Next to the auto sector, which I don’t think gets a lot of attention here in Ontario, is agricultural and food processing, which are the second highest contributor to Ontario’s GDP. If you see the tariffs the Federal government has slapped on the U.S., a lot of that is in the food processing sector.

“We would prefer not to have retaliatory tariffs, but that is where we’re at right now to get President Trump to pay attention.”

These are issues Mr. Wilson hopes to be able to take to the American government later this month.

“Of course, the tariffs that President Trump has put on steel and aluminum, the big worry and it looks like they are trying to conjure up excuses to put rather steep tariffs on automobiles and auto parts, which would devastate the Ontario economy,” says Mr. Wilson. “One in five Ontarians is dependent on trade. Most of our trade, although we’re trying to diversify it, is with the United States and part of my job is to convince governors, to convince the Secretary of Commerce and the White House, in tandem with the Federal Government, which is the lead on trade in this country, to be able to get through to some governors.

“They are kind of looking to Premier Ford and myself with the Great Lakes governors in particular, but there are several states we need to deal with and get acquainted with. We need to make sure the United States and the citizens understand that while there are 106,000 direct jobs in the automotive and parts industry in Ontario and tens of thousands more indirect jobs, there are almost a million direct jobs in the auto sector in the united states that are at stake in these talks.

“To show you how significant we are to the United States, and some governors may not appreciate this and we have to remind them, that for 19 states, Ontario is the number one export destination. When they are exporting in states like Indiana, Ontario is their largest customer and nine other states, Ontario is the second largest destination for their export goods. They are as reliant on us as customers as we are on them. It is just a matter of scale versus population.”

Although Mr. Wilson says Ontario and Canada would prefer not to have retaliatory tariffs in place, that is the current situation. They hurt both sides of the border, he says, and that was the spirit of the Auto Pact between the two countries in 1965 to ensure our respective industries would “stop hurting each other’s people and share the wealth.”

“We have integrated supply chains. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the border that are at stake and we’re going to try and make friends with the White House and these state governors and see if a little bit of common sense can prevail.”


Next week: Mr. Wilson renews his commitment to community priorities here in Simcoe-Grey.


By Brock Weir


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