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Big brother has become too big; readers call for less government involvement in the economy.

There is a growing consensus among Canadians about the problems facing the nation and how to deal with them.

Readers of Northern Ontario Business interviewed in an informal survey echoed the basic structure of the private-sector task force's action plan for the federal government's Prosperity Initiative.

The action plan recommends 54 actions be taken to help Canada compete in the growing global economy.

A common criticism of readers and the report is that Canada's big brother is simply too big.

"Our government is too big and it is too involved in the economy. The government has no focus for a long-term strategy. When they do anything it is piecemeal and crisis-responsive," says Graham Clayton, director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship for the Northwest in Thunder Bay.

"One of the problems is there is no long-term strategic plan in Canada. It is a series of plans that are here one day and gone the next," agrees Bruce Semper, president and CEO of Neelon Casting in Sudbury.

Semper says this lack of strategy makes it difficult for businesses to plan.

"I need to know for the next five years that a program will be here. I think the problem is that many of us are forced in North America, as a group, into seeing only the short term, and the government reflects that," he adds.

Judi Wood, office administrator of Thunder Bay Aviation, agrees that the government is only responding to Canadians' perceived need for its interference.

"I personally believe Canadians have to quit depending on government and start using their own resources. Most people before going into business go to the government for help to get started," explains Wood.

Clayton recognizes that the government does have some roles to play. He describes the federal government's efforts in encouraging trade as most helpful. But he believes Canadian companies are not taking advantage of these opportunities.

He points out most Canadian exporters are larger multi-national companies. Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses are extremely hesitant to get involved in exporting.

"It is the fear of the unknown," Clayton admits, "but you just can't stay home."

Exporting is one of the necessary tools Canadian companies must use if they are to compete and prosper.

However, while government is encouraging exporting, it is discouraging investment in industries where the nation's strength lies, claims Ross Bennett, manager of Technology Transfer at Laurentian University in Sudbury.

"We have to build on our strengths (mining and forestry). We have plenty of natural resources and nobody does it better, but the tax situation is becoming onerous. We are taxing these industries to death while we are putting money into industries, such as space-age technology, that won't work. We are taking what we do best and dumping on them," Bennett argues.

He agrees with others surveyed that as industry becomes more technologically advanced there is a need for the development of new skills and more training on the part of teachers, parents, business and labor representatives.

The training will have to take place beyond the education system, and once students get into the workforce it must never stop.

"That continuous education is the greatest failure of ours," explains Semper.

Semper's Neelon Casting is currently spending $150,000 on training of employees. However, very few Canadian companies have training programs or implement these programs properly.

In order to compete, Clayton believes there must be less liberal arts education and a move from consumptive education to skills learning.

He stipulates that this educational development must take place particularly because there is a need for Canada to spend more on research and development (R&D).

Clayton suggests that Canadians must learn how to do more commercialization - developing and marketing an idea for a new technology or product.

"It is as important as making the breakthrough in the lab," he stresses.

Canada's social service network also comes under criticism.

"You drop out of school and we have a system that will help support you. Where is the incentive to strive and get good grades?" Clayton wonders.

He points to the level of effort people in Third World countries expend in order to improve their life.

"One of the things that strikes most people visiting a developing country is how hard the people work there," he adds.

However, government is not solely responsible for the complacency of Canadians. The finger is also being pointed at the labor movement. Clayton questions the skill level of workers in relation to their salaries.

"People are drawing high wages for a low level of skills. Unions have had a hand in reducing the differential in wages between high- and low-skilled workers," he says.

However, as companies cut costs and adapt to new technologies in the global restructuring, workers will find themselves at odds as the jobs they once knew are gone or changed forever.

"The problem is transition. These people who were making a good living don't know where they will be going," points out Clayton.

While these changes may be gut-wrenching and disheartening "the nation will have to bite the bullet" and get on with it, he insists.

"The ability to be competitive will depend on the skills of our labor force," points out Clayton.

The Japanese way of doing things was highly touted by many of the people interviewed, but are they the best role model for Canada?

Brian MacLean, an economics professor at Laurentian University, suggests that there are a number of things Canadians can learn from the Japanese.

MacLean, who studied in Japan for five years and did research there in May, says we can learn the most from studying the Japanese methods of manufacturing.

For example, the Japanese use "lean production" which emphasizes reduced inventory levels, worker multitasking and just-in-time product delivery. Workers are required to know a variety of skills and perform a variety of tasks in production.

"This requires implementation of lifetime employment. This means having employees with a much longer tenure at a company. It is a system where layoffs are avoided at all costs and employees are more susceptible to technological change," explains MacLean.

Japanese companies continuously provide training to their employees, he adds.

This is where Canada differs.

"Some business school professors I have been talking to say that Canada is obsessed with cutting costs. We need to transform responsibly to develop a learning culture that doesn't translate into just cutting to implement more technology," MacLean insists.

The Japanese system of education is better than Canada with regards to equipping its students with the necessary skills and training to enter the workforce.

However, MacLean says the Canadian education system is better overall.

MacLean also indicates that there is a difference between the corporate cultures of the two countries in that the Japanese seek far less government intervention.

For example, when it faced slumping demand the Japanese shipbuilding industry responded by spreading the reduction amongst its members rather than turning to government for assistance.

The Japanese have evolved the "keiretsu" enterprise, known as clustering in Canada, where companies settle in close proximity to competitors and suppliers.

In conclusion, however, MacLean suggests Japan is not an appropriate model for Canada.

"There are some aspects Canada should adopt, but in some respects it is a less developed country than Canada," particularly with reference to Canada's social policies. "Scandinavian countries have more to offer as a model," he concludes.

Laurentian University geography professor Oiva Saarinen was recently in Finland and offers his observations.

"Two things I saw in Finland are the building of infrastructure and the (communications) electronic link. They are really into networking," he notes.

Saarinen says the Finns are "going heavy into research and development". Like the Japanese, the Finns are developing clusters in the form of technological parks.

But unlike the Japanese, Finland's economic and industrial strategies are municipally based and do not come from the central government.

The Finns have developed the concept of "Village Power." Because the population is widely dispersed throughout the country, a lot of smaller villages are banding together to form an economic development strategy. Saarinen said Sudbury Region's economic development strategy of The Next Ten Years is similar.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:criticism on interference of Canadian government in business affairs
Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:'You name it, we make it.' (Dingwell's Machinery and Supply Inc.) (Northern Achievement)
Next Article:Manufacturer critical of loan approval process.

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