Shop here to save Canada’s economy

By Al Ruggero

By now, everyone has heard the efforts to save our local businesses best captured by the national Shop Here campaign. The Shop Here initiative is meant to focus our shopping habits to support local enterprises. These businesses, including retailers, grocers, restaurants, pharmacies, convenience stores and others that supply them, are at the highest risk of closure as people turn to online shopping.

Many say that convenience, pricing, and variety, are reasons why they choose to shop online. We know however, that a majority of the online business ends up filling the coffers of foreign suppliers and manufacturers, and further weakening our domestic economy, costing jobs and forcing businesses to close.

Early in the first days following the outbreak and the pandemic declaration, many were shocked to learn of the depleted stock of essential products, including masks and gloves, and of our reliance on foreign supplies.

Still, in the early stages, governments of all stripes went on international buying sprees, which quickly devolved into bidding wars and price gouging amidst competing national interests.

As word spread among the public of the chronic shortage of essentials, panic buying set in with hoarding, long line ups and empty store shelves. Some items, such as wipes, are still in short supply. While the shortages are not as acute as that which we faced earlier this year, the lag between supply and demand point to apparent weaknesses in our economy to cope with the massive crisis this pandemic has caused.

In many cases, supply chains collapsed in the wake of closed borders and an over reliance on overseas goods and supplies. We’ve learned valuable lessons throughout these pandemic times. Our health care system and our economic structures are indelibly linked. The economic interdependence between our manufacturing, distribution, and supply management system meant that cascading failures disrupted our ability to deliver timely essential supplies to combat the epidemic. In Italy, we witnessed a health care system brought to the brink of total collapse with tragic consequences. Like a pinball machine, we are left wondering when and how to re-open the economy safely without spiking the spread of the disease.

The concern with flattening the curve is to avoid the sudden rise in infections that would exceed the coping capacity of our hospitals and health care systems. The worst-case scenario would see the need to re-introduce the most drastic public restrictions, derailing the potential for a more immediate economic recovery. In the wake of globalization, we have seen our manufacturing base diminish to the point that with the over-dependence on foreign supply chains, even our most robust industries are left in limbo when the supplies are disrupted by global events. Our supply chains have become overly complex, while aspiring to greater and greater levels of efficiencies. Our best-case scenario, however, would have industrial policy encourage resilience as a new directive and a national security consideration.

The pandemic has created one of the greatest disruptions to our modern economy since the 2007-2009 Financial Crisis. We have in effect, sacrificed our economic resilience and independence for the sake of global competition, rooted in achieving production efficiencies with the lowest costs of production. The fact that at the start of the pandemic, few companies in Canada produced masks was a major policy failure and embarrassment. Mask production is considered a low value, low tech item that was easier accessed overseas until it was no longer available to us. Nonetheless, it is ironic that Canada, known for our historic pulp and paper industry, lacked production of masks which are primarily derived from paper.

The good news is that a wartime ramp-up is now underway to convert idle production lines to produce the volumes of masks needed. In effect, our governments started their own Shop Here campaign to build our lost capacities to meet the needs. Many of our industries here in Emery Village have met the challenge and started, with the financial commitment of the federal government, producing masks, ventilators, and other PPEs.

At our local level, neighbourhoods would also lose their vibrance and resiliency with the closing of local stores. Business establishments are not just purveyors of goods and services, they are part of the fabric that ties community together. Places that by their proximity to residents encourage walking. Places where you meet your neighbours and friends, and learn of new things about where you live.

Neighbourhoods that lack such places, often feel desolate, unsafe and unfriendly, lacking in opportunities to get to know who your neighbours are. Shopping local doesn’t just feed families, it provides employment, summer work for students and keeps our supply industries operating and promoting local jobs.