The great bailout of 2009

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I damn near drowned several times before I learned to swim—once at Silver Bridge (end of Marlborough) and three or four times at the old canal by-wash. I do not know who the people were who interfered with the intentions of Providence, wiser than themselves, but I can only thank them now for their intervention. There are individuals on the other hand who know me and now, reading this article, might hold a grudge against them.

There are times for which we all need saving for the situation we find ourselves in was not of our doing, but rather an act of Providence. As a country we now find ourselves in such a situation, and would it not be for our federal and provincial governments’ intervention, many would drown. Both have shown insightfulness in doing what needs to be done to protect the larger majority of the population from possible devastating effects of a global economic crash. There is, however, one group which wouldn’t take heed to the warning signs, wouldn’t act responsibly to a changing marketplace, wouldn’t adjust their executive salaries, bonus, payouts and initially, when offered a saving hand up, selfishly asked for more while promising nothing in return. By and large, it’s the auto industry. The Big Three remind me of the person who murdered both his parents, and then, when sentence was about to be pronounced, pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.

For years media headlines have been reporting that sales for North American-style cars, trucks and SUVs have been failing, not by a few percentage points, but in some cases 40 percent. Yes, the economic slowdown in the USA has played a factor, but so has the inefficiency of these automobiles, from gas consumption, to sales prices and financing. The auto executives just have not been listening and now we the public are asked to help keep them afloat. May I be permitted to tell the auto industry and its workers “the slogan of progress is changing from the full lunch pail to the full garage,” is over and the last public saving hand soon will, and should in my opinion, be withdrawn.

I’m sure everyone feels sorry for the individuals who work in this industry and through no fault of their own are feeling the economic pain as a result of their companies’ executives’ poor and greedy decisions. But if their cars can’t keep up in our competitive flat world society why should the public at large keep them in business? My own compassion goes beyond that to those millions of unsung men and women who get up every morning, send the kids to school, go to work, try to keep up the payments on their house, pay exorbitant taxes to make possible compassion for the less fortunate, and as a result have to sacrifice many of their own desires and dreams and hopes for these individuals who are always finding a new way to make them share the fruit of their toils with others. Government, I think most would agree, owes them something better than handing out their tax dollars to the high-end workers in the car industry and their millionaire executives.

Canadians fully appreciate it to be our duty to see that wage workers, the small producers, the ordinary consumers, need to get their fair share of the benefit of business prosperity. But it either is or ought to be evident to everyone that the car industry has to prosper before anybody can get any benefit from it. Knowing this, why has it taken so long for this industry to recognize the changes that seem so obvious today? Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “We demand that big business give people a square deal; in turn we must insist that when anyone engages in big business, honestly endeavors to do right, he shall himself be given a square deal.” This industry and its workers have not historically shown such endeavours and even now are being ridiculously inflexible.

General Motors Corp’s lending arm, GMAC Financial Services LLC, under pressure from the government’s finally deciding to loosen its consumer access to credit. Can you imagine their cars and profit margins and they have to be forced to do what they should do simply for their self-survival? Canada’s auto-parts maker Magna International Inc. is spending $130.9 million building a factory in St. Petersburg because, according to their spokesperson, “We believe in the Russian market and are sticking to our development strategy.” And why shouldn’t they? No loyalty to Canada, after all; we just made them wealthy, and after all, they could ship the Russian parts back to Canada as imports. Sounds right to me! It might be difficult at first to understand but these companies only see loyalty to Canada as long as they increase the wealth that international trade brings. In so doing, they build up great fortunes for themselves thus creating a sharp contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, resulting in progress that is not real and cannot be permanent for long, but extremely profitable for them and them only. So much for loyalty.

In these recessionary times the American and Canadian federal governments gave Chrysler extra months to complete a deal that would see Italian Fiat invest in the company, this as the same government who just loaned $5 billion to save Chrysler from closing its door. With billions in taxpayer dollars, GM and Chrysler are merely keeping their doors open, praying for a miracle that consumers, within months, are going to run to their local dealers to buy new SUVs, trucks, or mini vans designed with outdated fuel consumption technology. These companies begging for bailouts are an offence to capitalism on all fronts and with their unions’ warning that they will not surrender on wages or benefit costs only leads to one solution: bankruptcy protection, thus permitting a complete restructuring and retooling of the automobile industry for the betterment of Canadian consumers in the long run.

This action, for which federal government Minister of Industry Tony Clement along with his confrere Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, needs to do is paramount to the advancement of the auto industry’s evolution to fuel-efficient vehicles thus reducing our demand on gas consumption and foreign production, increasing our long-term objectives of reducing green house emissions. I wonder if these two ministers and their conservative leader have the vision, courage and fortitude to do so? If history has taught us anything about this Conservative government, then they will sit on their collective hands—and brain—for that matter. Let each of us tell this government that the emperor has no clothes, and the wheels have fallen off the car industry. It’s time for a change; it’s time for a new bold strategy step into the future; and it’s time to think of the small Canadian taxpayers first and big dinosaur industries last.

Organizations: Silver Bridge, Big Three, North American General Motors Corp GMAC Financial Services Magna International Inc. House of Have House of Want

Geographic location: Providence, Marlborough, Canada USA St. Petersburg

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