I knew that southern Ontario had been hit hard by the downturn in the economy and consequences of the financial crisis. However, it is one thing to read about the impact, and it is another to sit and listen to people tell their stories.
As I travelled to Burlington, Brantford and London, and spoke to folks about the economy and jobs, it was made clear to me that it is not only high unemployment that has people here concerned, it’s a sense that there is nothing that can be done.
Even as I stopped in Chatham to talk to folks and listen to their concerns, I learned that the newspaper where I was going to do an interview had fired half of its staff that very morning.
We stopped in Windsor, once the great centre of auto manufacturing, and confirmed that too many people there were also out of work. Many folks talked about job training and how the government was trying to help, but seemed to be training people for jobs that did not exist.
Even in this environment, however, there were signs of hope. A couple of young entrepreneurs who opened a skater shop in downtown Windsor were working with others to try and building a community of small business that could attract customers back to the core. In Chatham, a local gallery had established a community on the beautiful old main street and as a result attracted a variety of local business to set up shop in the neighbourbood.
Perhaps one of the hardest hit towns we visited was Goderich, where the closing of a Volvo plant and the devastation of a tornado would lead you to think that the town was in real trouble. But that’s not what we found. We found a place where a spirit of optimism was profound, and the desire to rebuild and forge a future for the community was unbowed.
The desire to work, an interest in building community, and the vision to plan for the future were everywhere we went and I am confident southern Ontario can and will be an economic driver for Canada again.